Tom Gjelten, NPR religion and belief correspondent, traveled from Arlington, Virginia to Goshen, Indiana on Monday to present the 2019 Yoder Public Affairs Lecture.
The Yoder Public Affairs Lecture Series is an endowed lecture series, started in 1978 by Frank and Betty Jo Yoder, with the goal of bringing well-known speakers to talk about current events for Goshen College students, faculty, as well as community members.
Gjelten arrived around 4 p.m. to meet with the Globe Media leadership. Gjelten talked about how he became a correspondent at NPR, his involvement in reporting on 9/11 from the Pentagon the day of the attack and the days after as NPR went fully live for the first time in their history. He was shown the radio station and was interviewed by the Globe on his views of religion in the Midwest and how immigration has shaped religion in this region, creating what he said is “a religious diversity that you won’t see in any other part of the world.”
Gjelten gave a speech Monday night in Reith Recital Hall on the history of immigration in the United States and how law and culture have shifted, not only how many immigrants come to the United States, but also where the immigrants come from in the world.
“I really appreciated his talk,” President Rebecca Stoltzfus said. “I thought he was very fluent in the issues, I learned a lot about the history of immigration. You know there is so much going on in immigration currently that we sometimes forget where we come from as a nation and legislatively on this issue.”
Referencing his 2015 book, “A Nation of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story,” Gjelten spoke specifically about the great American immigration story.
“Gjelten did a great job of articulating the history surrounding some of the biggest issues that concern a large number of the people here at Goshen College,” said Bryce Stopher, a junior.
Gjelten started with how, for a long time, foreigners were from nearly exclusively European nations, due to immigration quotas. These quotas also drove down immigration numbers from over 15 percent at the beginning of the 1900s to less than five percent in 1965.
Immigration changed when President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, which abolished immigration quotas and encouraged labor as well as reuniting families. Gjelten spoke on how Lyndon Johnson thought the bill “was not going to be monumental.” Gjelten went on to talk about how that changed the demographics of immigrants coming to the United States, from mostly European immigrants to immigrants from other parts of the world, including South America, Asia and Africa.
The immigration numbers are rising again, Gjelten said, so “that within ten years immigrants will make up over 15 percent of the population again.” He finished by talking about how the changes in immigration will change America and make it a different place in the future than it has been over the last 200 years.
The crowd in Reith was filled with students, faculty, staff and community members. The speech was given positive views from listeners.
“I think the thesis that he deposits is a well-known one, is a good one,” said Philipp Gollner, associate professor of history. “There is this dichotomy of what are the limits of this country versus the country was built to be limitless. So some of the tensions that he pointed out were right on target.”