Political Science Professor Anthony Messina Discusses His Time at Trinity and Upcoming Retirement

Rhiju Chakraborty ’27

Features Editor

Separated by 800 miles of land and water, the Tripod had the privilege of meeting with distinguished professor of political science at Trinity College Anthony Messina to discuss his teaching and upcoming retirement. Messina holds a legacy of teaching for 40 years, 16 of which were here at Trinity, and now he is preparing to retire from the Trinity community and move onto the next chapter of his life.

Situated comfortably in the backdrop of his living room, the conversation began by Messina explaining how being a professor wasn’t always a part of his plan. In fact, he had been thinking of going to law school during his senior year of college, but decided eventually that that wasn’t “especially inspiring.” Finally at the behest of his political science advisor, Messina decided to apply for graduate school, where he got a master’s degree in political science. After obtaining his master’s, Messina attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he got his Ph.D, but he still was not sure if he wanted to be a professor. He explained that this was partly because he was not sure if he would be able to reach the level of an unnamed charismatic professor who had an impact on him in his undergraduate years, saying, “I couldn’t possibly imagine being that person,” before adding with a twinkle in his eye, “but it turns out I was wrong.”

Messina, the John R. Reitemyer professor of Political Science, has been teaching here at Trinity since 2008. Prior to his time at Trinity, he taught at Tufts University and the University of Notre Dame, where he received the Kaneb distinguished teaching award. But Messina says that the students here at Trinity have been the ones he has enjoyed teaching the most. He says, “the thing that I am going to miss the most about not teaching here at Trinity is really my interactions with Trinity students,” after which he added quickly with a chuckle, “and that’s not me doing PR.”

When asked what makes Trinity students stand apart from the other institutions of higher education that Messina has taught at, Messina says that Trinity students are nice but also have a sense of maturity and actually want to be at Trinity — a combination he says he personally prefers.

His interactions with students, while always rewarding, have also been opportunities for reevaluating how the course material is taught, and the lens through which students are engaging with it. He describes one such moment last semester when a student challenged the way the classroom was engaging with the material. In his Intro to comparative politics class, he recalled when an international student told the entire class that they believed the class was taught for only Americans. He says that that moment was an inflection point, reflecting the changing zeitgeist, as more international students have been taking the course than 40 years ago.

But that has not been the only thing that has changed during his time teaching political science. Messina, whose research specialty is migration and identity in Europe, says that he never could have imagined 40 years ago the increased interest the topic would have had today. He says, “When I first started at MIT in 1977, very few people in the United States were studying the politics of migration in Europe.” But after WWII, the mass migration to Europe created a particular set of social and political problems. These problems, he says, “first started to interest sociologists, and then political scientists. The long story short is that I tripped over a subject area that was marginal in 1977, and now seems like something everybody is studying.”

The conversation eventually drifted towards his newest book that he co-authored titled, “Immigration, Security, and the Liberal State: The Politics of Migration Regulation in Europe and the United States,” published by the Cambridge University Press that came out just this year. He says the idea of the book was proposed to him by his co-author seven years ago, who originally wanted him to write a chapter. “I said yes, and I probably should have said no, but in result I ended up co-authoring the entire book, and in-fact probably wrote every sentence of the book.

Messina also describes an exciting new conference that he is hosting in collaboration with colleagues from April 19 – 20, with political science professors Belen Fernandez Milmanda and Reo Matsuzaki. The conference will focus on the mega challenges to democracy, and in particular the challenges of immigration, climate change and artificial intelligence.

As the interview came to a close, Messina says, “I’m actually grateful for my time here at Trinity.” In the totality of his experience teaching at three different institutions, he says his experience teaching at Trinity was better than his experience of teaching at Notre Dame and Tufts, attributing it partly to the timeline of when he worked at each institution. For Messina the goodbye is bittersweet, as he confessed, “I’m actually a little sad that it’s all coming to an end.” And while it doesn’t seem like a complete goodbye for Messina, as he plans to be part of paper selection process that is a part of next month’s conference on threats to democracy after his tenure, his absence in the political science department will be felt by his students and faculty alike.

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