My first trip to Brooks County Texas was in May 2013. With that initial and each subsequent trip, my understanding of immigration and the crisis along our southern border has changed. As have my thoughts on how the Beyond Borders team can contribute to the prolonged mass disaster situation facing many counties in south Texas. I will focus this post on what we learn and what we take from these trips. To date, thirty University of Indianapolis students and faculty have participated in at least one Beyond Borders mission to the Texas borderlands. Our trips focus on quality over quantity, in that a small group of students travel each time for a truly immersive experience. The goals are 1) to provide the practical forensic anthropology and forensic archeology skills of our program and 2) to provide an immersive and transformative experience for the students that focuses on empathy and global interconnectedness.
With every trip I learn from the people around me. From the community members who are immersed in this environment year-round, to colleagues who are also contributing in various capacities, to my students who depart Indiana full of energy asking just the right questions to consider things from yet another angle. This trip we were able to briefly meet with Sheriff Benny Martinez. I haven’t seen him since our January 2019 trip. He is a big reason why this work has continued and the success in exhumations and identifications in Brooks County has been a model for other counties in South Texas. He always says something that puts things into perspective for me. This time he said “Sometimes the hardest thing to do is the right thing”. He was telling the team about how things have changed over the years in regards to preventing deaths and immigration policies. Things have gotten so political that people say and do what they think that have to rather than what they know is right.
Changes in perspective often do not occur until a person or someone close to them is directly impacted. That is why empathy is such an important goal of these trips. To experience how one’s own assumptions and perspectives influence their thoughts or behaviors, and how immersive experiences can be used to question those assumptions is powerful. Extending that to understand that one’s own life experiences create the lens for how they view all situations and stepping back to consider another’s feelings or experiences can create a better understanding of the world we live in. I hope my team always chooses the right thing, even when it’s the hardest path. Experiencing global connections is also important in that it shows how we are all connected as humans regardless of geography, political or other social borders. We can work together to do the right thing, even we have different ideas and perspectives.
Every trip I watch the team transform with each day in the Texas borderlands. They grow not only as professional forensic scientists but in so many other ways as well. They learn the power of teamwork and friendship. I allow each team member to contribute ideas to our plans to build confidence in their own abilities. Just telling them what to do does not help them grow. But placing them in an environment where their contributions are heard and valued is important for their personal and professional growth. This group was no exception. I am proud of their work and growth in the especially harsh environmental conditions of this trip. I am proud of what we accomplished as a team.