Gettysburg College students visit France to study immigration tensions

Few tourists see the Paris that members of a Gettysburg College senior seminar experienced during a field trip to examine racial tensions there.

The four French majors, led by Prof. Florence Ramond Jurney, met with anti-racism leaders and government officials and toured locations including the Arab World Institute, African Market, and Great Mosque.

The students' journey "gave us a taste of every aspect of immigrant culture in Paris — the places, the people, the politics, the religion, and even the food," said Lauren Smith of Clifton, Va., who is also majoring in Japanese Studies. "We were able to see the novels we've been reading in class in their intended settings. From now on, the Eiffel Tower will not be the first image that comes to mind when I envision Paris."

With an official of the Ministry of Urban Housing, the students probed issues relating to the "banlieue," which Peter Suchowacky, who is also majoring in philosophy, described as "basically ghettos where most of the immigrants and minorities live. They are separated from Paris, and with the Metro (public transportation) prices, they are basically stuck there, unemployed and very angry, which has led to numerous riots in the past. Now the government is trying to improve integration into French society — socio-economically, not culturally — and repair and build new housing, etc."

The group also visited the headquarters of SOS Racisme, a non-profit organization that investigates and litigates cases of discrimination against Arabs, Africans, and other immigrants and citizens who are not viewed as traditionally "French." During the students' visit, a disturbance outside the heavily secured building led workers to make well-rehearsed preparations to defend themselves against violence. The students were in no danger, but looked on as SOS Racisme personnel pulled a person who was being assaulted to safety inside the building.

The scene was quite different at the Great Mosque, said Suchowacky, of Grand Forks, N.D. "We were able to see it, not only from a religious point of view, but an everyday point of view. There were young children playing in the courtyard and people walking around taking care of various chores. We were able to see the role the mosque plays in everyday life, not just for religion."

"It seemed that there was some sort of learning opportunity literally around every corner," said Leah Sigle, of Cazenovia, N.Y., who is also majoring in music. "It was so interesting for me to be able to see with my own eyes what is going on in France at the moment. Having this opportunity during the last semester of my senior year here was perfect because I was able to bring other courses and other knowledge and experiences to the table to make even more connections."

Jurney, a French native and graduate of Paris' University of the Sorbonne, said she was delighted to take students places they would have been unlikely to visit on their own. "Everything we saw was a teaching moment," she said. "I told the students to  ‘think with your eyes, think with your ears.' Now they will graduate knowing there is more to Paris than the Louvre."

The four-day mid-March trip complemented the rigorous academic requirements of the seminar, which was titled "Post-Colonial Immigrations in France." Students were required to read and discuss a great deal of contemporary literature, make a presentation to fellow students and faculty, and write a 15- to 20-page research paper — all in French.

The fourth student was Amanda Phaneuf of Annapolis, Md., who is double-majoring in French and political science.

Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences. With a student body of approximately 2,600, it is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania. The college was founded in 1832.

Posted April 2, 2008

By Jim Hale 

Posted: Wed, 2 Apr 2008

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