North Central College - Naperville, IL

Service, study abroad inspire student’s research on immigration reform

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Jenna Slack ’12, Spanish major, leadership and conflict resolution minors
Jenna Slack ’12, Spanish major, leadership and conflict resolution minors

Senior Jenna Slack from Carol Stream, Ill., is among 45 students from North Central College whose research project was accepted for presentation at a leading national conference on undergraduate research.

Her research topic—using mediation to examine and resolve illegal migration issues—evolved after a study abroad experience her sophomore year led to subsequent volunteer work.

“When I came to North Central I knew I wanted to major in Spanish and possibly teach. But after studying abroad in Costa Rica where my Spanish got really good, I discovered a different use for my language skills and a new career direction,” she says.

Slack started volunteering at her home church in Carol Stream, translating Spanish to English and vice versa, serving alongside lawyers doing pro bono work to help undocumented immigrants from Mexico. “As I did Spanish translation, I learned the ins and outs of immigration law and the legal systems. This work was just getting underway and it grew so much, up to 100 cases the first two years, that I helped co-found a nonprofit and started serving on its board,” she says.

As a result, Slack expanded her studies at North Central, adding two minors in leadership and conflict resolution. As she focused on courses in law, ethics and alternative dispute resolution (ADR), she formulated different approaches to resolving issues related to immigration and made those the subject of her independent research and her College Scholars honors thesis.  

“I researched whether or not using the mediation processes would be more beneficial than the current standard debate processes for political decision making. Could mediation produce better, more comprehensive immigration reform?” Her research project, titled “The ADR Angle: Examining Illegal Migration Issues Through the Mediation Process,” will be presented at the 2012 National Conference for Undergraduate Research (NCUR) at Weber State University, Ogden, Utah, March 29-31.

In her research, Slack notes that ADR or conflict resolution replaces litigation with mediation, a process meant to encourage understanding and communication among disputing parties and guide them toward a mutually agreeable resolution. Focusing on the conflict of excessive illegal migration between Mexico and the United States, an issue she witnessed firsthand, Slack suggests that mediation offers a better way to assess and reform policy.  

She uses research from peer-reviewed publications, personal interviews and content from several training seminars on immigration to develop a thorough representation of the undocumented Mexican immigrant position and the American citizen position. She then examines the interests and obligations of all positions and navigates the parties toward a mutually agreeable resolution.  

Slack plans to attend law school, but first she’s been accepted to a two-year assignment with Teach For America in Detroit, teaching high school Spanish. Teach For America is a highly selective program that recruits recent college graduates to raise achievement levels at high-need schools.