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Students for Migrant Justice

Immigration isn’t talked about much on campus, but it’s time for a change! Students for Migrant Justice (SMJ) is a new organization that is helping to build a foundation for conversations and learning opportunities to be started. This organization is just one of the many organizations on campus that show students passion and advocacy. I sat down with Taylor Dempsey, SMJ’s director of partnerships and external involvement, to get insights about the organization.

Taylor Dempsey, SMJ’s director of partnerships and external involvement

Taylor Dempsey, SMJ’s director of partnerships and external involvement

SMJ has three goals for their organization and community. First, they want to educate the campus about the immigration system. “We noticed that people weren’t even aware there were immigrants in Knoxville, so we wanted to make sure to inform their perspective and give them knowledge about [the immigration] system on campus,” Taylor added. Second, they want to partner with organizations off campus that are working toward immigration reform in the population in order to bridge the gap between the organizations and students. Lastly, SMJ wants to empower student migrants, stand in solidarity with them, advocate alongside them, and give students that are not often given the opportunity to have their voices heard to have a platform.

Many events and initiatives are being planned for this semester. Every month, there will be a weeklong social media push to educate people on a specific topic. There are also different events coming up based on educational aspects and policies. Another topic that is being covered in the organization is the 287g is a policy in Knoxville. This law formalizes the relationship between ICE and local law enforcement, where local police can act as deputized ice agents so they can initiate deportation. This policy was resigned in June. We’re working with a coalition of groups across Knoxville to oppose this policy. Another event that’s being planned is a History of Immigration Lecture in collaboration with UT Law School and LMU. Lastly, SMJ is aiming to partner with other student organizations on campus to advocate for different causes. “We’re trying to build a platform where we can showcase community partners, who they are, what they do, and how students can help,” Taylor adds. All of these events are aimed to build capacity and start the foundation of helping migrants.

Students hold up t-shirts at a Students for Migrant Justice meetingWeekly meetings consist of educational topics and where people can come to learn about different immigration topics. Taylor adds, “Immigration policy is so complex, and people are scared to dive into the issue and start talking about it because it’s so confusing. So, we want the meetings to be a place where people can start to learn slowly.”

One of their first and latest events was a To Immigrants with Love Day in collaboration with, a nonprofit based in Washington D.C., on Valentine’s Day. Students wrote letters to Knoxville migrants sending a message of love, letting them know that people are thinking of them. This event was a great way to provide relief to migrants, stand in solidarity with migrants in our communities, and show them support.

Students hold up signs at a Students for Migrant Justice meetingSo why is this organization important to have on campus? Taylor answers, “Our city has a big immigration population and many people on campus aren’t aware of that. There is so much rhetoric on immigration, news stories about this population that are dangerous. So, it’s important for our group to bridge that gap, expose students to this community and concern.” This is a great organization for the university to have on campus. It educates students, brings awareness to the different issues, and promotes diversity and inclusion. “Topic of migration is inherently diverse and should be inclusive,” Taylor adds. Migrants touch a million and one topics, it touches LBGTQ+ topics, political topics, and every continent and country. Being an immigrant is an important identity to many students on campus and that should be recognized and being able to expose students to this identity is how this campus can become more diverse and inclusive. It’s important to have organizations like this on campus, especially during an election year, in order to educate students on policies that are being discussed.

If you want to get involved with SMJ, it’s super easy and a great way to learn! There are no membership dues and students can message SMJ for the meeting times and zoom links. Follow SMJ on social media: Facebook (Students for migrant justice), Instagram and Twitter (@utk_smj).

Bailey Ly smiling at the cameraBailey Ly is a junior majoring in public relations with a minor in business administration. She is the undergraduate public relations intern for Student Life  Communications. She loves cooking and learning about new cultures.