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''Governing Crime and Migration' combines theory and real-life experience'

During last summer, the Faculty of Law offered an Honours Class about the theme 'Governing Crime and Migration'. Hillary Mellinger, one of the participating international students, tells us about her experiences.

'Prior to attending the Leiden Law School’s summer course, I was aware that the world was a place of inequality where conceptions of “criminal behaviour” and “justice” were both highly subjective and deeply entrenched in historical, societal, and institutional racism. I hoped that the summer course might provide me with a lens through which I could better understand the world around me. I also hoped that it would provide a safe forum through which I could discuss my own privilege and how I was a part of the overall machinery of an unfair world.

Expectations coming true

The Honours Class did all this and more – it left me theoretically grounded in the academic discourse on these topics, as well as aware of how practitioners, government officials, and civil servants might react to issue-areas that intersect with “crime” and “migration.” My own academic research interests include immigration policy and states’ utilization of detention as a deterrence mechanism for irregular migration.  The Honours Class delved deep into the topics of detention and incarceration and adopted a comparative approach, enabling students to analyse these issues across time and geography.

Excursions and speaking with government officials

The Honours Class was extremely organised and combined academic knowledge with real-life experience. Renowned faculty from all over the globe descended upon Leiden to both impart their knowledge and to engage in classroom discussions with students. Daily readings and assignments provided a theoretical and intellectual background for the field excursions to sites such at the Katwijk Asylum Centre and Schiphol Airport’s Deportation Centre. Students were encouraged to ask questions both inside and outside of the classroom environment, and the daily assignments were carefully constructed to ensure that students continued to think critically about crimmigration issues.

The aspect of the summer course that I enjoyed the most was being able to speak with Dutch government officials and civil servants about their perception of the criminal justice and immigration systems. It is truly a rare opportunity to have candid conversations with immigration practitioners about their views of the system, and to be able to ask questions about how the immigration process works (and doesn’t work). The officials we spoke with put a human face to the institutions that we strive so hard to theorize about in our academic classes. They provided us with a reminder of how states must grapple with balancing human rights with societal fears about national security and a (potentially labelled “criminal”) “other,” the “outsider.”

Honours: learning about yourself, outside your comfort zone

A common reflection from anthropology is that you learn more about yourself when outside of your own country or comfort zone. Similarly, the summer course taught me much about myself and about how the U.S.’s immigration and penal system functions in comparison to other countries.  It also made me deeply reflect on race, power, and privilege, and how each of these has combined to produce enduring inequalities in today’s world. Being aware of these inequalities, as well as one’s own role in them, is a first step towards addressing them. I thank Professor Maartje van der Woude and all of the organisers of the Honours Class for their substantial efforts towards making this course a reality – the students who had the distinct privilege of participating in it will forever analyse the world we live in with a better-informed and more critical mind.'

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