Transcending Boundaries Research Symposium Focuses on Building Bridges

By Maria del Toro

On May 11th, the University of Chicago's School of Social Service Administration hosted its 2nd annual Transcending Boundaries Research Symposium. Transcending Boundaries is an interdisciplinary research symposium for underrepresented minority graduate students intended to highlight their work and contributions. The theme for this year's symposium was "Building Bridges: Discipline, Perspective, and Experiences." The theme sought to emphasize the goal of bringing together graduate students of color from all areas of the university.

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The symposium keynote speaker was Dr. Yanilda Maria González, Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration. Her research focuses on violence, inequality, and human rights in Latin America. González’s book manuscript, The Blind Spot of Democracy: How Democratic Processes Perpetuate Authoritarian Police, examines the political power of police and the social drivers of the persistence of police violence and corruption. Based on two years of fieldwork in Argentina, Brazil, and Colombia, the book demonstrates how the distribution of protection and repression along lines of race, class, and geography shapes citizen demands and contestation, serving as an obstacle to police reform. Gonzalez’s new research project studies the mobilization of mothers of victims of police violence in Latin America and the United States. As part of this project, González is working with scholars and mother-activists to build a transnational collaborative to facilitate research and advocacy around state violence in the Americas. The evening prior to the symposium, she hosted an event featuring several of the mother-activists, several of whom attended Transcending Boundaries.

As part of her keynote, Gonzalez discussed her research and described her own alienating experiences in pursuing her career in academia and needing to hide her activism during her political science pursuits. She then turned the floor over to symposium attendees to share times in which they transcended boundaries in their own academic journeys. Participants shared examples including overcoming public speaking with an accent, reluctance to share one hometown, and managing opposition when picking research topics involving underserved populations. Quoting Shirley Chisholm, Gonzalez ended by saying “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair. These efforts are our folding chairs.”

Research panel sessions were divided among three themes: inequality, policy and health, which featured a presentation such as “How Open Data Can Be a Force in City Diplomacy” by Saeb Ahsan; identity as an implication if crisis, which included Stacey Mercado-Perez’s presentation “From Slow Violence to Disaster Capitalism: The Crisis of Being a Woman in Puerto Rico”; and race and sociocultural considerations, which featured presentations such as “Remittance Development in the Context of Mexico-US Migration” by Carol Garcia.

The lunchtime hour featured a panel of graduate student organizations dedicated to advancing underrepresented minority representation at the university. These organizations included the Race and Pedagogy Working Group, the Graduate Recruitment Initiative Team (GRIT) Black Action in Public Policy Studies (BAPPS) and the Society for Advancement of Hispanics/Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS).

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As part of the symposium, first-year Booth students Melody Johnson, a co-chair of the African American MBA Association, and Maria del Toro, who leads the University of Chicago-wide Hispanic Heritage Month Planning Committee, gave a poster presentation. The presentation was based on a final project for Strategy & Structure: Markets & Organizations with Professor Pontikes in the winter quarter. The paper, co authored by del Toro, Johnson, Ian Hatch, Aman Parikh, and Sreekirthi Vadlamuri, analyzes Major League Baseball's strategies to address persistent attendance declines, including dynamic pricing models, integrating VR technology, and infrastructure changes to stadiums.

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The symposium was organized by Jasmine Benjamin, Dr. Tamica Collins, Nanetta Pon, Jean Salac, and Radiah Shabazz. It is made possible through sponsorship from UChicagoGRAD, the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture, the Division of Humanities, the Division of Social Sciences, the Division of Biological Sciences, the Center for Identity + Inclusion, the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, and the Graduate Council.