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Two Baruch Communication Studies Professors Win 2018 Saxton Applied Research Award

Project explores how undocumented immigrant parents and their children communicate with each other

From left: Baruch College Communications Studies Professor Caryn Medved, PhD, and Assistant Professor Sarah Bishop, PhD

From left: Caryn Medved, PhD, and Sarah Bishop, PhD

Communication Studies Professor Caryn Medved, PhD, and Assistant Professor Sarah Bishop, PhD, both faculty members at Baruch College’s Weissman School of Arts and Sciences, received the 2018 Stanley L. Saxton Applied Research Award for their co-authored project, “Relational Tensions, Narrative, and Materiality: Intergenerational Communication in Families with Undocumented Immigrant Parents.”

In their research, the faculty members explored how the material conditions of living without legal status kindles unique relational tensions in immigrant families and how undocumented immigrant parents and their children communicate with each other to negotiate those tensions.

Dr. Medved and Dr. Bishop conducted 25 in-depth interviews with parents who are undocumented immigrants from Latin American and their children living in New York City.

“At its heart, this project is about the interaction of material conditions and communication. But its family-scale perspective also provides a view into the ways that broad federal policies affect the lives of everyday Americans as they come of age,” the professors explained in an email interview. “Reading the stories of these families, particularly for someone not familiar with the struggles and successes of undocumented immigrants, is a valuable and eye-opening experience. By engaging with these stories, we can better understand the impacts of undocumented status on family life and relationships.”

The Saxton Award, issued by the Carl Couch Center for Social and Internet Research, is an annual competition open to both students and faculty who submit papers that focus on how theory, research, and/or practice contribute to addressing real, pragmatic, social problems. Papers may be theoretical, methodological, or empirical in nature.

Two Weissman Professors Join Forces

The 2018 Saxton Award winner brought together two Baruch College professors with extensive experience covering distinct subject matter: immigration issues and family conflict.

The inspiration for their research project began when Bishop was conducting interviews for her book, Undocumented Storytellers, published by Oxford University Press this January, which discusses how young immigrants navigate the decision of whether to go public about their undocumented status. Bishop started to “wonder how the day-to-day difficulties of undocumented life affected their families—like not being able to legally work, vote, or plan the future with certainty,” and she was curious if these material conditions would alter parent-child communication.

Since Bishop was new to family-focused research, she was glad to have one of Baruch’s leading scholars of family communication, Dr. Medved, team up with her on this project.

“For decades I have studied how we communicate within and across personal and professional relationship to navigate work and family conflict,” Medved said. “This collaboration allowed me to delve into an entirely different set of family relationships, work conditions, and larger societal pressures at play in these families’ lives. It was an excellent opportunity to learn both from these families as well as to learn from Sarah about issues of immigration and communication.”

Solving the Difficulties Immigrants Face

Both professors were motivated to complete this project because of the communities where they live and work. Baruch College is one of the most diverse colleges in the nation, with its students speaking 104 languages and representing 168 countries.

Bishop is also a volunteer for an immigrant-serving organization in Brooklyn called Mixteca. This organization hosts “Know Your Rights” sessions for undocumented immigrants in the community, offers ESOL classes, and trains young people to be immigrant rights advocates. Seeing the “difficulties that undocumented people have to face every day” led Bishop to try to address the underrepresentation of undocumented immigrants in academic research.

“Mainstream political and popular discourse portrays immigrants more often in groups rather than as individuals, which has a kind of dehumanizing effect,” Bishop said. “But the existing research we studied for this project tells a different story, of undocumented moms and dads—many of whom fled dangerous and even life-threatening situations—doing whatever it takes to see their children achieve their dreams. This is a narrative many of us can relate to. But to understand how undocumented status may inhibit families from achieving their potential, we need more work that foregrounds their voices.”

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