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Documenting DACA in East Tennessee

Documenting DACA in East Tennessee

Meredith Maroney loves watching the news. She consumes hours of it every day and studies broadcast journalism at UT, so when it came time to focus on her senior honors thesis, a video documentary about a current news issue made perfect sense.

“I studied abroad in Costa Rica the summer of my junior year in high school and from that point on, became very interested in news pertaining to immigration and news that affects the Latino community,” Maroney says. “Undocumented issues are a huge portion of the news that affect not only the Latino community, but the United States as a whole. The purpose of my thesis was to get an understanding of the immigration system in the United States.”

Combining her expertise in video production with the transdisciplinary methods she learned in her Spanish 434 course, Maroney produced a 30-minute documentary focused on the experience of undocumented individuals in Knoxville in light of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. She conducted interviews in both Spanish and English with a variety of individuals affected by DACA.

“My objective is to present different perspectives that measure the extent to which DACA and other undocumented individuals impact the city in economic, social, and other cultural spheres,” Maroney says. “The interviews center on real life experiences, which in turn provides a platform for a variety of voices.”

People have a variety of opinions about DACA and undocumented issues. Individuals directly affected, however, might not always have their voices represented, which was a major factor for Maroney’s dedication to the documentary.

“I wanted to explore the topic and strip it down from all the conflicting commentary, rhetoric, and whatever preconceived notions people have when they think about DACA or undocumented individuals,” Maroney says.

Gregory Kaplan, professor of Spanish in the Department of Modern Foreign Languages and Literatures, served as Maroney’s thesis advisor and helped guide her through the process.

“In her project, Meredith analyzed the DACA phenomenon through legal, sociological, and demographic lenses,” Kaplan says. “This transdisciplinary approach to research is characteristic of the type of undergraduate research projects at UT. Meredith would not have been able to complete this project were it not for her excellent skills in Spanish, which have been perfected in the wide range of courses she took in our Spanish program.”

Maroney’s timely and innovative project is one many examples of how faculty and students in the Spanish program invest in the local community. Over the years, they have partnered with Centro Hispano, placed interns in hospitals and schools, and performed community service.

“Meredith’s insightful video about Knoxville’s Dreamer community is one more example of how Vols give back to their community,” says Adrian Del Caro, professor of German and head of the Department of Modern Foreign Languages and Literatures.

Maroney hopes her documentary challenges people to independently research prominent news topics and topics that interest them.

“Independent research is essential to critical thinking because you are able to really grasp an objective view of an issue,” Maroney says. “I am thankful for a free press and think news outlets can be consulted in this research due to the wide variety of stories pertaining to a topic.”

Maroney plans to attend law school after graduation. She would like to become an immigration attorney conducting her practice in Spanish and English.

“At the end of the day, most people just want to make a life for themselves, provide for their families, and give them the best opportunities possible,” Maroney says. “I am proud to be from a country that welcomes these people, their dreams, and goals. I am excited to see what opportunities law school will offer, but I have a heart for immigration issues and will definitely try to incorporate that in my life.”

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