Each summer for more than a decade, Associate Professor Greg Payne has led a group of students to the beach community of Rosarito, Mexico, to learn about crisis communication, public diplomacy, public relations, and the power of image.
This year, the Rosarito Public Diplomacy Workshop, one of Emerson’s 16 Global Pathways summer programs, will turn a lens on the issue of immigration and international borders, showcasing stories from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.
“It’s another example of the immersive experience we provide students to better understand issues like this one,” said Payne, chair of the Communication Studies Department.
About 15 students will travel to Rosarito, just south of Tijuana in Baja California, from July 22-August 12.
The Rosarito program began with the aim of countering negative media reports, which depicted the area almost exclusively as a violent place dominated by drug cartels – perceptions that are still pushed today by the current administration, Payne said.
Students attend classes led by Emerson faculty and guest lecturers. They visit consulates, businesses, agencies, and organizations on both sides of the border, and talk with leaders in various sectors about public diplomacy, crisis management, and civic engagement. They attend cultural and sporting events, and come up with public diplomacy and public relations campaigns that complement the city and nation branding goals.
The program culminates with the Rosarito Film Festival, a community event frequently held at Baja Studios, where epics like Titanic, Master and Commander, and Pearl Harbor were filmed. The Emerson students design promotional campaigns for the festival.
“What it is, in many respects, it’s a creative [public relations and public affairs] workshop for students to focus on passions and do it in a cross-cultural perspective,” Payne said.
Last year, the group visited Friendship Park, on the U.S./Mexican border, where, once a week, people living on the American side of the fence can come and spend a few minutes with family living in Mexico where they conducted interviews for storytelling projects that were later presented at national and global conferences.
This summer, students will return to the park, as well as partner with nonprofits like the Boys and Girls Club and meet with consuls and government officials in order to showcase narratives and stories from an immigration perspective, Payne said. The finished product will be shown not only at the Rosarito Film Festival, but at this year’s Emerson-Blanquerna Global Summit, being held in Washington, D.C., in October, and at the Cross-Cultural Communication in Abu Dhabi in January.
Kyle Neill ’18 and a small group of students visited Rosarito during the Winter Intercession this year, and is going back this summer to complete a directed study for his degree. He also visited Friendship Park, and the experience left an impression.
“I think it’s something every American should witness, because it’s heart-wrenching,” Neill said.
On his way back south from San Diego, he came back through the San Ysidro Port of Entry, the world’s busiest land border crossing, processing 70,000 northbound vehicles and 20,000 northbound pedestrians per day, according to the U.S. General Services Administration. There, he saw one of the epic traffic jams for which the crossing is notorious.
“I left in the evening,” Neill said, “and you see people lining up to do their evening commute,” returning home to Mexico from working in California. “It really challenges the notion coming out of Washington, that these are dangerous people coming over.”
This summer, Neill, a political communication major, will be working on a website to promote the program, and said especially now, with immigration front and center in the political discourse, the Rosarito workshop is a “wonderful experience.”
“I think, if you have never been to Mexico, this is a really good way to initiate that experience,” he said.
Keri Thompson, senior lecturer in Communication Studies, went to Rosarito for the first time last year and “instantly fell in love with it.” She’s going back for a week or two this summer to lecture and help with field trips.
“Immigration is obviously a timely, hot button issue right now, but I think our students get a different perspective, actually being able to see the border, and especially from the Mexican side, rather than the U.S. side,” she said.
“We can teach students as much as we can in the classroom, but when they actually interact with Mexican [residents], it has an amazing impact on them.”