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The Center for American Studies Presents: Alan Bersin, Assistant Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at CNU chapter.

I have fantasized about being a superhero ever since I was a munchkin riding a Barbie tricycle. While other girls were planning their dream weddings, I found myself sitting in front of the TV watching cartoon after cartoon featuring pop culture’s favorite heroines. Wonder Woman, of course, was my faveee, and she still is to this day.

This is the point where you start to realize how this was basically my intro to every scholarship written by me ever.

But, really. Watching the superheroes – male and female – dominate the justice field inspired me to want to do what they did. Sure, I was never dropped in a vad of toxic waste, and I’m not an Amazonian princess (but my name is Royall sooo…) but I can say that while my desired careers throughout grade school strayed from the justice-filled path, I eventually found my way back.

Which was why, when my mother sent me a link about Alan Bersin, the Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for International Affairs, speaking (coincidentally) RIGHT AFTER my 3 p.m. class finished this past Friday, I started geeking out. Sure, I may not be interested in immigration directly, but my heart’s always been set on one branch of international trade – the illegal kind – of people: human trafficking. Consider the added bonus of the fact that this man worked for multiple sectors of INTERPOL, where I eventually want to end up working, and I scheduled it in my planner faster than you can say “Merciful Minerva!”

So, armed with my tiny notepad and $1 pen, I slid into one of the few seats left in McMurran on March 11th right before 4pm and took a look at the man who would be gracing us with his presence. Despite him being a little shorter than I was expecting, he stood with squared shoulders and a relaxed smile while one of the tech guys spoke with him about his mic. And, while he was introduced, he sipped from his Starbucks drink with a similar relaxed facial expression. This, of course, told me exactly how his talk was going to go.

During the half hour Mr. Bersin spoke, I learned a lot: some of which I already knew, some of which I didn’t. With his New England accent (his alma mater includes Harvard University, where he was an active athlete), he explained in detail the pathways which information and goods and people travel, showing all of us in that crowded lecture hall just how much everyone in the world is now connected. He quoted scholars and figures, like the late President Lyndon B. Johnson and Mark Twain, and explained the significance of the 1648 Westphalia Treaty (which, in case you were wondering, is that it created nation states rather than empires).

When he got to the fun stuff – illicit trade – the air in the room shifted. This was what we all had come here for and Bersin didn’t disappoint. Using the laser pointer on a map that was made up of multi-colored lines, he explained that the distribution of narcotics was (and still is) the longest and largest running illicit trade globally to date. Of course, when he mentioned the migrant rates were so prevalent on the map due to the illegal trade of human beings I almost squealed, but I kept my composure. Score one for human trafficking!

That map, and all the other ones he showed, continuously reinforced his main point that borders “are not lines, but global flows.” Bersin also explained how those flows are managed – especially in our country concerning the hidden needle in the haystack of terrorism. One of those ways elicited large laughs from the audience: just burn the entire haystack to find the needle. However, Bersin quickly reiterated that that was not the most efficient way to go about it. As the audience sobered up, he explained that our country, like many others, has adopted meticulous processes in order to weed out those who might be dangerous to our country.

Go out of the country a lot? More than three times per year, perhaps? Bersin explained that you can become a member of the Global Entry System, which, to make a long story short, allows you to bypass practically all of the Customs and Border Patrol check-ins at airports. He said it not only gives us a way to keep track of who’s going in and out of the country, but it also helps the government assess low and high risk people – if your application’s denied, it’s probably because you have a high risk factor for being considered a threat.

Bersin also spoke about the great debates our generation will have to face: privacy and how cyberspace is governed. In today’s world, those who don’t share information are seen as leaving their country at risk, and the cyber world lacks blanket rules and laws to govern how it should be used.

Including his reiteration of the concept of borders as flows, Bersin repeatedly noted how “the future is not what it used to be.” Our generation has more to worry about than we think, but he also said that he believes we have the tools and innovation to fix our issues. Which made me enjoy his talk even more.

Stay classy, Captains!

You can categorize Royall as either Leslie Knope when she has her color-coded binders: or Hyde whenever Jackie comes into a room before they start dating: There is no in-between.  Royall recently graduated with her B.A. in Sociology & Anthropology from CNU and now studies Government & International Relations at Regent University. She also serves as the Victim Advocate and Community Outreach Coordinator for Isle of Wight Co., VA in Victim Witness Services. Within Her Campus, she served as a Chapter Writer for CNU for one year, a Campus Expansion Assistant for a semester, Campus Correspondent for two years, and is in the middle of her second semester as a Chapter Advisor.  You can find her in the corner of a subway-tiled coffee shop somewhere, investigating identity experiences of members of Black Greek Letter Organizations at Primarily White Institutions as well as public perceptions of migrants and refugees. Or fantasizing about ziplining arcoss the French Alps.