A lesson to learn from the difficult experiences of exile

Maria C. Serrano/Contributing Writer
news@fiusm.com

During the era of segregation in the 1930s and ‘40s, two types of excluded groups joined forces to learn from each other and succeed. Several Jews in academia, escaping from the Nazis, found new ways to expand their careers in historically black colleges due to the difficulty of landing jobs at white colleges in the United States.

Donald Cunnigen, who was mentored by one of these Jewish immigrants at Tougaloo College, is going to lead the upcoming lecture, The Academic Experience of Exile, at the Modesto A. Maidique Campus from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 27.

During Cunnigen’s freshman year in Tougaloo College, he met his mentor, Ernst Borinski, a fugitive from the Nazi Germany who landed a job as a sociology teacher at Tougaloo.

“As a young man from a small rural town in Mississippi, he provided an early exposure to a cosmopolitan scholar,” he said.

Cunnigen is now a professor at the University of Rhode Island, dedicated to race relations, social movements and social inequality.

Borinski, who passed away in 1983, believed that the students at Tougaloo were at the same level as any other American college students. He mentioned several times to Cunnigen that the life of any segregated person should not be an obstacle to reach his or her hopes and ambitions.

His words encouraged Cunnigen to be successful in his graduate school at Harvard and the University of New Hampshire as well at his current career in sociology.

In his upcoming lecture, Cunnigen will discuss Borinski and his journey to find his role in life as well as the Tougaloo College institutional life and the issues of race, ethnicity and historically black colleges and universities.

“Given Tougaloo’s unique role in the civil rights movement and Borinski’s presence on the campus during the time, the view of the immigrant’s promise will include a discussion of the modern-day civil rights movement, especially the 1964 Freedom Summer Project that is celebrating its 50th Anniversary,” Cunnigen said.

He will also touch upon topics such as refugee and exile scholars in the American South during the Jim Crow era.

As a highlight of the lecture and a look at the present and future, there will be a discussion of Borinski’s singular role in developing the Sociology Department and outlining the lives of students in a positive way.

“I believe the work of Borinski and other Jewish refugee scholars at historically black colleges and universities provided an invaluable role model for inter-racial cooperation from which 21st century Americans can derive benefit,” Cunnigen said.

Michael Gillespie, director of the Center of Humanities in an Urban Environment, said of the event, “It will resonate with many of us here in Miami with the experiences, not exactly similar to what this men and women had, but the sense of marginalization, the sense of displacement, the sense of confusion we feel when we are in a new place and we are trying to orient ourselves.”

This event, among others, is part of the exhibition Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow: Jewish Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges, organized by the Exile Studies Program, Center for Humanities in an Urban Environment and the Department of English at Florida International University in collaboration with the Coral Gables Museum.

“We are very fortunate to have Professor Donald Cunnigen. He will be talking from the perspective of a trained professional but also from someone who has experienced this mentorship first hand,” said Gillespie.

The exhibit can be seen from Oct. 5 through Jan. 11 at the Coral Gables Museum found at 285 Aragon Ave. Coral Gables, FL.

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