Supporting Asylum Seekers through Research

by Tia Staszkow ’22

Though summer ‘20 looked vastly different from what Professor Torres and I had planned, my experience taught me a great deal about what I will achieve in the future. I began working with Professor Torres in January of 2020, and at the end of the spring semester, we applied for further funding to extend our work into the summer. Initially, I started working with her after she caught notice of my interest in the intersection of law and social sciences, and within 20 minutes of us meeting for the first time, she offered me a position as a research assistant. I am happy to say that we have again extended our research into the Fall 2020 semester, too. 

Outside of teaching at Wheaton, Professor Torres works as an expert witness when called upon for asylum seekers entering the United States from Guatemala. In particular, she testifies on cases that involve domestic & gender-based violence, state-incited violence, LGBTQ+ discrimination, and targeting of indigenous identities. Initially, we had plans to travel to California and/or Texas over the summer to attend conferences and volunteer with major detention centers. Due to the ongoing pandemic, our travels took a back seat and we instead got to work on completing three publications: Two articles for a handbook entitled “Practicing Asylum” and a co-authored introductory essay to be published in the Annals of Anthropological Practice (AAP) alongside nine anthropologists from across the country. 

Throughout the summer, we had regular virtual meetings with each other and met a few times with her colleagues involved in the AAP publication. My main role for the “Practicing Asylum” publication was to support bibliography development, particularly in the building of a knowledge base on the case law relevant to issues of domestic violence and LGBTQ+ discrimination as they interact with asylum. For the AAP publication, my main role was researching the policy changes of the U.S. Immigration system and how COVID-19 impacted the “push factors” that force people to seek asylum in the U.S. from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Upon documenting these ongoing changes to immigration law, we began co-authoring an introduction to the journal on the changes of immigration law and the anthropologists role in law. 

The most exciting part about this experience was getting to work with anthropologists from across the country and learning about the (strenuous) process of publishing academic literature. I was able to build connections with anthropologists who may end up being colleagues in the future, and this entire experience helped me solidify what it is I hope to do with my degree. Had I not had this summer experience, I would be too nervous in my ability to pursue a JD/PhD in anthropology. Now, I look forward to a joint graduate/law school experience that is coming my way after Fall of 2021. 

I wish I had pictures to share, or any company logos to provide, but a picture of me typing at my messy desk doesn’t feel like the strongest representation of my fulfilling summer.