SHU professor assists migrant families on the Southern Border

With the further entrenchment of anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States and abroad, a member of the Seton Hall community has dedicated her life’s work to combatting misunderstandings of society’s most ostracized members including immigrants.

Markela Quin/Staff photographer

Widian Nicola, an assistant professor from the Department of Sociology Anthropology and Social Work, volunteered at the Catholic Charities Rio Grande Humanitarian Respite Center in mid-August of this year where she assisted migrant families with a wide range of issues.

She had the opportunity to serve the community by washing floors, cleaning bathrooms, sorting clothes, greeting families, playing with children and shopping for the Center. Additionally, she and her friends raised $10,000 to bring with them on their trip to purchase supplies for migrant families.

In her experience as a social worker, Nicola has encountered individuals who have experienced poverty, discrimination and marginalization. However, she said regardless of her 18 years of experience, she continues to be astonished by the amount of suffering and ongoing social inequities.

“Unfortunately, the further I am from these harsh realities, the less I can do,” Nicola said. “So, drawing closer to the pain — and the beauty — of people’s resilience amplifies my desire to help.”

Like many people, Nicola was informed about the ongoing refugee crisis prior to her trip to McAllen, Texas, a city located on the U.S.-Mexico border. According to Nicola, during summer she heard a first-hand account by a psychologist who had met migrant parents who had been separated from their children.

“The details I heard of the migrant families’ traumatic experiences were both astonishing and moving,” Nicola said. “This was the point I became compelled to see it for myself and to help in any way I could — however small.”

Additionally, Nicola published a podcast which includes a season that is five episodes. The podcast, a medium where stories that are rarely reported in the mainstream media can be heard, is called the “Lived Experience Project.” The first season’s title is called, “Undocumented” and the upcoming second season will be called “Living with Climate Change.”

She said that stories regarding people’s lived experiences are “the bridge that connect people.”

“It is through these shared experiences told through stories that people can move beyond defensive and often superficial and divisive arguments,” Nicola said.

According to the podcast’s website, the mission of the platform is to broadcast the voices of the unheard and to challenge assumptions, “about the world in ways that might lead each of us to greater connection with those whom we are seemingly distant.”

With the rise of prominent anti-immigrant candidates and elected officials worldwide, Nicola addressed major misunderstandings about undocumented people. She claimed a great misconception is that undocumented people are a national security. Those who are designated undocumented are seeking refuge, safety, security, and in numerous situations, the chance to better their circumstances, according to Nicola.

“And, in an abundant world with infinite possibilities, immigrants — undocumented or otherwise — continue to enhance the economy, create jobs rather than ‘steal’ them, and contribute to our society in remarkably positive ways,” she said. “That is what history and research has shown and continues to reveal.”

She said the current climate and divisive rhetoric contributes to her passion to better the world.

“As someone who sees the sacredness of all people, I am compelled to defend against injustice and inhumane treatment of any kind, especially those seeking refuge in our country.”

Thomas Schwartz can be reached at

Author: Thomas Schwartz

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