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Sharing insights on co-teaching migration

By Lucien Vilhalva de Campos | Issue 24

Ever since I finished my PhD in International Relations in 2021, I have been dedicated to the purpose of teaching on the subjects of migration and activism. Surprisingly, the opportunity to turn this purpose into reality came quite swiftly. In early 2023, I was granted the chance to design an interdisciplinary course encompassing topics suitable for both undergraduate and graduate programmes at the Central European University (CEU), in Vienna. Collaborating with Robert Sata from the Department of Political Science, we developed a compelling course focusing on migration, borders, integration and activism within the European context. Delving beyond states’ migration policies and bordering practices, the course aimed to take a closer look at the most diverse migrant struggles, activist initiatives, collective acts, and social expressions observed along the European borders.

Image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay.

Conducted throughout the fall term of the academic year 2023/2024, the course featured engaging class activities and welcomed six guest speakers covering diverse sub-topics like EU deportation agreements, critical policy analysis, borders, gender and race, refugee integration, anti-migrant prejudice, and digital migration. Most importantly, the international composition of the course, bringing together students, instructors, and guest speakers from different countries, reflected the rich diversity of personal experiences. Eventually, my own status as an immigrant might have impacted the teaching environment not only because it brought authenticity, but also because it helped deepen our understanding of the complexities embedded in migration-related issues.

Challenges and outcomes

The course faced some challenges stemming from the diverse composition of the students’ cohort, which was composed of twelve undergraduates and graduates from nine different nationalities. Given the level of diversity, we made sure to tailor our teaching approaches to accommodate international students from different educational backgrounds. We had students pursuing BA programmes in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, as well as Culture, Politics and Society, alongside those in MA programmes in Legal Studies, Political Science, Sociology, and Gender Studies. This involved adopting a more direct, engaging, and inclusive communication style to match the different understanding levels of the diverse group.

Organising the course schedule and hosting guest speakers also presented logistical challenges that required meticulous planning to align external perspectives with the course’s main topics. We  eventually successfully brought together a dynamic team of guest speakers selected based on their vast research and teaching experiences. The course benefitted significantly from contributions of Manuela da Rosa Jorge on deportation agreements and policy analysisJulia Sachseder on gendered and racialised politics, Ana Mijic on the arts’ transformative potential for the sociology of migration and integration, Luca Varadi on anti-migrant prejudice from a socio-psychological perspective, Koen Leurs on practices of digital migration, and Javier Toscano on mobile commons. Their ability to provide enriching insights through a combination of theoretical depth and empirical perspectives played a key role in fostering a comprehensive and rewarding educational experience. This underscores the importance of our proactive preparation in addressing complexities and ensuring the integration of external voices into the course programme.

Students’ responses to the course activities were based on engaging tasks, such as short position papers, case study analysis, and a final project. The short papers, for example, required students to present clear positions with supporting arguments, contributing meaningfully to subsequent presentations and fostering discussions within a large group. Presentations followed a 3MT (Three Minute Thesis) format, encouraging concise delivery within a brief timeframe to maximise the exchange of viewpoints.

The students’ presentations covered a range of interesting topics. Some of them delved into theoretical realms, exploring critical perspectives on datafied migration, the interconnections between Islamophobia and Xenophobia, the risks of border externalisation for European countries, and the concept of welfare chauvinism. Others took a more empirical and activist-oriented approach, addressing issues such as calls for accountability for the 2023 Pylos shipwreck, the main barriers faced by migrants in enjoying sexual reproductive health and rights in Europe, the complexities surrounding the migration context in Mayotte, and the implications of the Meloni-Rama Agreement.

The class also engaged in an interesting case study analysis. Students were divided into groups to evaluate two real-life cases involving states’ bordering practices and activists’ responses. Analysing the incidents of the Carola Rackete’s case in Lampedusa and “The El Hiblu 3” case, students explored the intersections between human rights and the escalating anti-migrant policies adopted by border authorities. Discussions mostly centred on the responsibilities of state and non-state actors under international law, revealing strategic diversions employed by governments to deflect public attention from issues of protection, rights, and responsibilities. Students reflected on the implications of the cases, including their impact on public discourse, government strategies, and adherence to legal and ethical standards. Throughout the course – spanning from this case study analysis to all 11 sessions – students demonstrated a comprehensive understanding of how human rights and migration policies can intersect in different ways.

Personal reflections

Co-teaching this course underscored the multidisciplinary nature of migration studies, revealing that they extend beyond policy discussions and analyses of states’ bordering practices. What is also particularly important to highlight is that the course evolved into a dynamic environment where students (all immigrants themselves) actively shared personal viewpoints that enriched our discussions. This culminated in the establishment of a space where scholars’ insights and students’ personal experiences were able to intersect, transcending conventional teaching approaches. The multidimensional, interactive, and inclusive teaching approach created a small but interesting group of students and experts prepared to navigate the complex sociopolitical landscape surrounding migration, borders, integration, and activism in the European context. In fact, the effectiveness of this approach was evident in students’ active participation, showing their grasp of theoretical concepts and practical applications to real-world scenarios.

Engagements with my co-teacher and the guest speakers also broadened my intellectual horizons and provided me with knowledge outside my typical research interests. These interactions improved my analytical skills and refined my research methodologies. Therefore, by embracing an interdisciplinary approach to teach migration-related issues and expanding my own intellectual capacities, the course not only conveyed knowledge, but also nurtured a more critical understanding capable of addressing the interconnected social and humanitarian challenges present in today’s Europe.

Lucien Vilhalva de Campos was born in Brazil and holds a PhD in International Relations from the University of Lisbon. In the last four years, he secured fellowships and research stays at institutions in Germany and Austria. Currently, Lucien serves as a researcher and teaching instructor at the Department of Political Science of the Central European University (CEU), in Vienna. Committed to expanding his expertise, he aligns his professional philosophy with contributing to socio-political advancements, specially within the migration and humanitarian domains. He is also driven to assist other young and talented students in expressing themselves authentically and empirically, addressing the contemporary challenges facing migration matters nowadays.


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