The Center for Urban Education, based at the USC Rossier School of Education, hosted Breaking Down Barriers, an art exhibition reception, on Feb. 16.
The research center featured the powerful work of Mar�a Teresa Fern�ndez, a Mexican-born photographer who has been documenting the construction of the border fence that runs along the U.S.-Mexico border since 2001.
As part of a series of events marking the center’s 10-year anniversary, visitors mingled with the artist, staff and the center’s co-directors Estela Mara Bensimon, a professor of higher education, and Alicia C. Dowd, an associate professor, during the two-hour reception.
“Our mission is to create equity and break down the barriers that have excluded marginalized racial-ethnic groups from higher education,” Bensimon said. “We feel Mar�a Teresa’s artistic point of view mirrors our own emphasis on educational philosophy.”
The 82 photographs in the exhibition range from heartbreaking to bittersweet. There are abstract shots of rusted metal and trash strewn along either side of the barrier, which extends for almost 2,000 miles. Long-separated sisters hug through heavy wire. Divided families picnic on opposite sides of a fence, and ever-vigilant border patrol agents are seen through the lens of a camera.
Fern�ndez, who lives in San Diego, was born in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. She came to the United States in 1991, the same year construction on the border fence began. As Fern�ndez walked around with guests, which included USC Rossier dean Karen Symms Gallagher, she described in detail some of the stories behind the photographs.
Many were surprised to learn that after Sept. 11, 2001, work on the border fence had intensified. With the launch of Operation Gatekeeper in 2004, the fence continues to grow not only in height but in length. The barrier begins in the Pacific Ocean, a couple of hundred feet from the shore, and stretches about 60 miles inland past El Centro, Calif.
“These powerful photos of the border stimulated a great deal of discussion, bringing together faculty, staff and students,” said Dominic J. Brewer, associate dean for research and faculty affairs at the USC Rossier School of Education. “We are delighted that CUE initiated the exhibit.”
The Center for Urban Education was launched in 1999 as part of USC’s Urban Initiative. The premise for the center was based on the idea that the victories that had been achieved in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement – although historic and significant – still needed to be translated into equitable educational outcomes for African-American and Latino college students.
To view the photos in the exhibition, call (213) 740-5202.