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MFLL Undergraduate Works With Immigrant Communities At Home and Abroad

Growing up just twenty minutes from the US-Mexico border in San Diego, California, Shannon Perrone was exposed to the inequities faced by immigrant families in the United States on a daily basis. Now, as a senior majoring in Modern Foreign Languages & Literatures with a concentration in Language and World Business, she has been able to look at these issues with a more critical lens. Her research titled, “Immigrant and Differently Abled Education Inequities”, primarily focuses on how the immigrant experience of moving to a new country, adapting to new customs, and learning a new language, affects elementary children in a classroom setting. However, her experiences in both Knoxville and abroad have shown her how these issues extend beyond the classroom and into economic, political, health, and social encounters, leaving her to question what our role is as global citizens in ensuring equity for immigrant communities.

As a freshman at UT, Perrone got to know the Hispanic community in Knoxville by volunteering at Inskip Elementary School and Centro Hispano, a local non-profit community center. We caught up with her at Inskip, where she works as a tutor for English language learners: “The first thing I did was help translate for parent teacher conferences after school, through which I began to notice that there was a huge barrier between the teachers and the parents. This caused for many miscommunications in regards to homework assignments, course requirements, field trips, etc.” She found that students were often translating for their parents, which led her to dive deeper into the ways in which immigrant families struggled to live and work in their daily lives.

Perrone witnessed these hardships first-hand in spring of 2018 when U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducted the nation’s largest immigration raid in over a decade at a cattle slaughterhouse in Bean Station, Tennessee. She worked as a translator for lawyers who were representing the 97 detained workers. Perrone recounted, “I was asked to help translate and assist the families of those detained in trying to contact their loved ones. This was an incredibly powerful experience that I will never forget, and it led me to research more about the laws our nation has implemented and what exactly are these immigrants’ rights.”

Immigration issues are, of course, not unique to the United States. The U.S. is just one of several countries with a high immigrant population. As a junior, Perrone lived and worked in one of these nations during her study abroad experience in Madrid, Spain. There, she volunteered with Comisión Española de Ayuda al Refugiado (CEAR), a refugee assimilation assistance organization. This experience, she said, helped supplement her research in Knoxville: “I was able to compare the practices and experiences of immigrants and refugees in a European country to those of the U.S. When I returned to UT, I completed a final research project combining my service learning and global experience in the field with scholarly research and interviews.”

When asked about the challenges she has faced in her research, Perrone cited the unique hurdles that come with investigating topics in the human experience: “The most challenging part in completing this research for me was becoming aware of the countless trials and struggles that our immigrant communities face on a daily basis…Doing research on a topic like immigration inequality requires me to push myself to acquire as much knowledge as I can in order to be an informed advocate, which is why the research aspect to this project is essential.”

Perrone’s paper was accepted to be presented at the Richard Macksey National Humanities Research Symposium at Johns Hopkins University in April. She looks forward to connecting with fellow humanities scholars and researchers in preparation for a career in education advocacy. After graduating in May, she plans to go to work for inner city schools with high populations of immigrant students, followed by a degree in education. She stated, “There is so much to learn in this sector and our education and immigrant/refugee program services are constantly changing. I am eager to spend the next few years in my future career adapting to these changes and seeing how I can play a role in these outcomes.”