Otterbein Students Learn About International Law from Local Immigration Professional

Posted Feb 16, 2022

Rodriguez Bell Visit

By Payton Kaufman ’24

Sometimes the best way to learn something is to talk to the people who are practicing it. To help her students understand the real-world local application of international law, Assistant Professor of Political Science Rachel Schwartz invited a central Ohio immigration attorney and non-profit director to speak to the class.

The international law class studies how global politics is shaped by “international laws and institutions,” Schwartz said. It pertains, primarily, to laws that impact refugees and those seeking asylum.

“Particularly for courses on global politics, which often feel like they are focused on very distant topics and events, I think it is really important to show students how the international is often also very local,” Schwartz said.

That is why she invited guest speakers like Jessica Bell, a local immigration attorney who works to help those seeking asylum in Ohio, and Jeremy Hollon the associate director of community partnerships for the Community Refugee and Immigration Services, to speak to her class.

“Ms. Bell showed students how the international legal principles we discussed in class prior to her visit often aren’t enacted in the ways we might hope,” Schwartz said. “Mr. Hollon was able to provide students a holistic picture of what new Americans face and how students themselves can get involved in welcoming those coming to our community.”

As a result of these guest speakers, students took action. Some students planned to volunteer at CRIS while other began to work part-time with Bell.

“Students were incredibly enthusiastic and asked a number of incisive questions that reflected how their learning in the classroom contributed to their understanding of these real-word issue,” Schwartz said.

Two students currently working with Bell are sophomore history and political science major Evelyn Grajales, and sophomore Spanish and political science major Olivia Culp. At the firm they do translations, compile evidence about different countries, and will start interviewing clients in the future.

“I always knew that I wanted to work helping immigrants or working with immigrants, because I’ve always been around Spanish speaking communities,” Grajales said.

“It’s a really lucky experience to be able to work in the same field as your major when you’re a second year student,” Culp said. “It’s an opportunity to work with people and know that the work you’re doing is, hopefully, positively impacting their lives.”

Grajales hopes to move to Mexico after graduation to help the immigrant population there, while Culp hopes to attend law school after getting her undergraduate degree. At Otterbein, students are able work in the field by their second year or even their first in some majors.

“I want to give so much credit to Professor Schwartz because she is such an amazing professor,” Culp said. “She sends emails to students in our major of internships and different career things to look at. She really goes above and beyond for her students