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Professor Walsh discusses immigration and theater

Walsh has fought for the rights of immigrants in Denver for years.
Photo: Ryan Egloff· The Sentry

James Walsh merges political science and the arts

Professor James Walsh, who has been teaching at CU Denver for 21 years and currently in the political science department, is perhaps best known among his students for incorporating elements of theater into his courses. 

Theater and political science might seem like an odd pairing to some. However, Walsh believes in the importance of allowing students to “express ideas through art” as it helps them to “come out of their shells,” something students don’t experience from listening to lectures and taking notes.

For one of his assignments, Walsh asks students to reach out to older family members to compile oral histories and then asks students to choose one of these accounts to create a skit for class. Walsh believes this assignment allows students to “explore why they believe what they believe” as well as explore their identity and place in the world. 

Walsh’s interest in theater extends beyond the classroom as he also runs the Romero Theater Troupe. The troupe has had about 600 total CU Denver alumni over the years and is comprised of both Walsh’s former students and members of the community. The troupe productions are completely original, usually non-scripted, and both “budget-less and director-less.” Walsh believes this format allows everyone in the group to make an artistic contribution. The troupe performs vignettes that tend to feature either historical events, current social movements and activists, or personal stories from members’ own lives. The troupe was recently featured in the 2014 documentary Unbound: The Story of the Romero Theater Troupe, which is now on YouTube.

Walsh, who has also been involved in the Immigration Rights Movement in Denver for many years, says the movement has become “stronger and more resilient” since the 2016 election. 

“The Zero Tolerance policy of separating families brought tens of thousands of allies into the movement, outraged by a deep sense of immorality and dehumanization,” Walsh said.

Walsh says the current political climate has affected the classroom, “in such contentious times, teaching political science becomes challenging. Students today hold intense anxiety and anger, and at times, this spills into class discussions.” He believes the role of educators in this environment is to “meet students where they are, attempt to understand them, and build relationships.”

Walsh is optimistic that the current political climate is encouraging students to become more engaged. “I feel a strong spirit of activism among students today, perhaps more than at any other time in my 21 years at CU Denver,” Walsh said.

Walsh didn’t always consider himself politically active. He describes his family growing up outside of Pittsburg as Irish-Catholic, apolitical, and working-class. 

He moved to Denver at age 22, initially to study poetry, where he found himself drawn to the Chicano Movement and Immigration Rights Movement.

Walsh, who also studies Irish diaspora, believes that as an Irish American, immigration is still an important part of Irish-American identity. He encourages Americans, even ones whose ancestors immigrated hundreds of years ago, to explore their own immigration history and think of how it relates to the stories of immigrants today.

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