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April 1, 2021

Student view: How my identity and an election inform the work I do

Janet Ibarra is an honors college senior double majoring in social relations and policy in the James Madison College and political science (pre-law) in the College of Social Science with a minor in Chicano/Latino Studies.

From the age of three, I spent hours in the hot blueberry fields of Southwest, Michigan where my family was paid low wages and was exposed to pesticides for migrant work. As a Latina and given my farm working background, the 2016 Presidential Election sparked in me an interest and love for learning about the representation of the Latinx community in governing bodies.

As I saw my community being scapegoated for political gain, I became more determined to learn how to navigate the policy realm and use the law for greater justice.

In the fall of 2017, I moved to East Lansing to earn my undergraduate degree. I came to Michigan State eager and ready to take full advantage of the opportunities the university presented. I became close with our Latinx student organizations ranging from the Culturas de Las Razas Unidas, the Dia de la Mujer planning committee and the College Assistance Migrant Program.

Although the Latinx community only accounts for 4% of students at MSU, I found a home and love within my community. I understood that we were breaking barriers sitting in spaces that were never intended for us. However, I also wanted to make sure that I used my time here to prove to my younger siblings and younger generations that they belong in these spaces. The first step in doing so was investigating further how Latinx students experience predominantly white institutions and how four years of the Trump administration affected students.

Through a selective initiative called the Social Science Scholars Program, I embarked on a two-year research project titled “How the Trump Presidency Affected Undergraduate Students.” Prior research, as well as anecdotal information, tells of a rise in fear, stress and health complications in the Latinx immigrant community over the past several years related to the former president’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies and his tolerance of overt nativism.

My study focused on the results of anti-immigrant politicization and its effects on Latinx undergraduate students. By means of a survey completed by 34 university students, primarily first-generation immigrants, this paper revealed consistent themes of fear, anger, alienation and political mobilization. My research project is soon to be published in an annual collection of undergraduate social science research at MSU.

As I reflect on my past, I realize that working in the fields was truly the most valuable experience because it provided me a unique upbringing, and it gave me the perseverance to work toward creating a more inclusive representation of my community.

Upon graduation, I plan to attend law school with the intent to practice immigration law to provide subsidized legal services to my community.

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