Monday, February 9, 2009

Speech on immigration raids wins college's annual peace oratorical contest

Analisa Gerig-Sickles, winner of the 2008 C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical Contest, talked about the impact of work raids on illegal immigrants.

» View photos of the six student-speakers at the contest.

GOSHEN, Ind. – Analisa Gerig-Sickles, a Goshen College senior elementary education major from West Branch, Iowa, won first place with her speech "No Mas Redadas" during the college's annual C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical Contest on Feb. 3. She was one of six Goshen College students from a variety of disciplines who spoke about peace and justice issues during the competition.

By winning the contest, Gerig-Sickles received $150 and the opportunity to compete in the U.S./Canada Mennonite Central Committee-sponsored C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical Contest. The runner-up was Isaac Yoder-Schrock, a first-year physics major from Moundridge, Kan., who received $100 for his speech "National Healthcare, Caring for Others."

In her speech, Gerig-Sickles talked about the impact of work raids on illegal immigrants. She used stories from her experience last summer working with St. Bridget's Catholic Church in Postville, Iowa, the site of one of the largest work raids in U.S. history. About 400 workers from the Agriprocessors meat-packing factory were arrested by about 1,000 government agents. At St. Bridget's, she helped people affected by the raids with financial, physical, spiritual, legal and emotional support.

Gerig-Sickles told vivid stories that people affected had told her to convey the inhumane treatment of illegal immigrants by government officials. "During the raid many people were maltreated. One woman who was hiding under a pile of boxes was yanked out and slapped across the face," she said. "Hundreds of workers suspected to be illegal immigrants ... were loaded in vans and taken to the National Cattle Congress facility, a place normally used to exhibit cows."

By putting a face on the immigration issue, Gerig-Sickles hoped to encourage people to speak out against raids. "No matter how you feel about immigration and how our country deals with it politically or socially, I hope that you can feel compassion for the people and families affected by this raid," Gerig-Sickles said. "I encourage you to contact your senators and representatives and to spread the word that you do not support raids."

Frank Johnson, the special assistant to the president and one of the three judges for the speech competition, said Gerig-Sickles' speech had "the ability to combine personal passion with a relevant issue in a way that compelled me to consider my role in the immigration issue."

In the second place speech, Yoder-Schrock spoke about the necessity of universal healthcare in the United States. "The U.S. currently spends almost $7,000 per person per year on healthcare, we spend more than every other country in the world and yet we are the only industrialized nation in the world that does not insure all of its citizens," he said. "We need to internalize and then act upon the ideals of Mennonite and Christian beliefs alike; this means taking care of each other."

Rachel Lapp, assistant professor of communication at Goshen College and coordinator of the event, was particularly impressed by this group of speeches. "My colleagues in the Communication Department and I feel that the caliber of the student speakers and their presentations were exceptional in this year's contest," Lapp said. "There was such an interesting range of topics addressed, and variety in presentation styles ... It was a close contest, ultimately, to determine the winners, because there were truly strong components of each of the speeches."

Ben Baumgartner, a freshman Bible and religion major from Hesston, Kan., spoke about Muslim and Christian relations in his speech "Peace between us: finding hope for Muslim-Christian relations." "Not only is peace between us possible, but the ability of Muslims and Christians to live together is absolutely essential," Baumgartner said. "With over half of the people living in this world either Muslim or Christian, unless we can find ways to live side by side this world cannot be at peace."

Alison Brookins, a sophomore theater major from Verona, Wis., spoke about the importance of eating locally in her speech, "Eating locally: Sustaining creation through our community." Brookins took the audience on a virtual shopping tour at a local grocery store to make a simple meal which traveled 6,743 miles to reach Goshen. "We are profoundly disconnected from our food. We would be hard pressed to find the origin of our Ramen noodles." Brookins said. "Be aware that there is a problem with our food. And be aware that the choices you make can make a difference."

Hoa Nguyen, a senior business major from Hanoi, Vietnam, spoke about the reality of human trafficking in her home country in her speech, "Human trafficking: Where is the love?" Nguyen asked the audience tough questions. "Is there such a love where children are forced into prostitution? Is there such a love where people have to terminate their own babies? Imagine if this was your own child ... How would you feel if your own child is a victim of sexual exploitation?" Nguyen said. "I challenge you today to make choices that will bring a little piece of heaven for your brothers, for your sisters and for the victims of human trafficking."

Hector Varela, a sophomore TESOL and Spanish double major from Goshen, talked about local gangs in his speech, "Gang awareness: Help and prevention." "Gangs are no longer confined to the large city urban areas. They are no longer only black or Hispanic. They are no longer the low income, dropouts from society, poorly educated whose families are not available for them. Gangs are now found in a mixture of all races, genders, socio-economic classes and ethnicities," Varela said. "We know that God has a purpose for all of us, but do gang members know what the purpose of their life is."

The speeches were judged on originality, the integration of the topic and a peace position, and general standards of delivery. The trust of C. Henry Smith, a Mennonite historian and professor at Goshen and Bluffton (Ohio) colleges, funds the contest, which gives students an opportunity to become involved with the peace cause while cultivating rhetorical skills. Speech contests have been part of Goshen College's history since the early 1900s; the C. Henry Smith contest allows the campus community to hear more about relevant, contemporary issues.

–By Tyler Falk

Editors: For more information about this release, to arrange an interview or request a photo, contact Goshen College News Bureau Director Jodi H. Beyeler at (574) 535-7572 or


Goshen College, established in 1894, is a residential Christian liberal arts college rooted in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition. The college's Christ-centered core values – passionate learning, global citizenship, compassionate peacemaking and servant-leadership – prepare students as leaders for the church and world. Recognized for its unique Study-Service Term program, Goshen has earned citations of excellence in Barron's Best Buys in Education, "Colleges of Distinction," "Making a Difference College Guide" and U.S. News & World Report's "America's Best Colleges" edition, which named Goshen a "least debt college." Visit


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