Eyeing the big picture 

Honors College graduate plans to tackle immigration reform

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SUMMARY: As an Honors student, the Ghana native studied the differences between immigration courts and other court systems, and how the various laws and decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court affect those applying for immigrant status.

Each Honors student creates a unique path within the Honors College, and Belinda Addae (’21) was no exception. 

Bilingual in Twi — a dialect spoken in her native Ghana — and English, the Intelligence Analysis major with a minor in Political Science studied the differences between immigration courts and other court systems, and how the various laws and decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court affect those applying for immigrant status. She specialized in Black immigration, which receives fewer resources, aid and media attention.

“When we think of [Black immigration], sadly, we think only of the Hispanic or Latinx community, but there are people who look like me going through immigration issues, but we’re kind of invisible in that space,” said Addae, who came to the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals aid program. 

For her senior capstone project, Addae conducted interviews with members of the Harrisonburg community to learn how society has shaped their views, reviewed numerous immigration cases, and spoke with refugees about the immigration and integration processes. 

“The capstone was the perfect way to encapsulate my life and the things that I did [at JMU],” she said. “My big picture is immigration — making it real for people who don’t understand it.” 

Her passion to help others extended to her involvement with JMU’s Summer Honors Institute, a program designed to give high-school students a glimpse of college life. Addae attended the summer prior to her senior year. She credits the experience with changing the trajectory of her life. 

“It really changed my perspective on how hard I have to work to get the things that I want,” she reflected.

During that week, a fellow student pushed Addae to apply for DACA, another decision that changed her life. Addae served as a counselor for the institute for the next two years, guiding and inspiring students to make the same decision she did. “It’s amazing to see all these bright-minded students come and explore college,” she said of the experience. “You can just see them thinking about things and growing in that … but more importantly, them seeing, ‘I can do this.’” 

Addae hit the ground running in the Honors College. As a teaching fellow for faculty members Alysia Davis and Jared Diener, she gained experience in facilitating and public speaking — invaluable exposure for the legal career ahead of her. The opportunity also led her to become a leadership consultant for the Student Leadership Center, which teaches leadership skills through workshops, personality assessments and more.

She was also president of the African Student Organization and joined Student Ambassadors, giving tours and connecting with prospective students to encourage them to attend JMU. In addition, she was a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the first historically Black sorority. 

Editor’s Note:
Since graduating in May 2021, Addae has worked in the medical field with pregnant women who are considered high-risk. She has used the experience to inform her podcast series on immigration which is the result of her Honors capstone project. Addae plans to enroll in law school in the next few years to become an immigration attorney. She currently serves as a community engagement specialist at Church World Service, a refugee resettlement organization in Harrisonburg, Virginia.


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by Anna Christensen

Published: Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Last Updated: Tuesday, March 5, 2024

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