The thesis explained

This blog is often bad about talking about my real life, but I’m going to try to be better about that this summer, especially while I’m here in Arizona working on my thesis. Basically, I decided to try to do as much work as possible on my senior thesis this summer, because next year I’m going to be editor-in-chief for the Pioneer, which is a 40-60 hour a week job. So my options for actually devoting time and energy to my thesis narrowed down to do-it-over-the-summer pretty quickly.

I’ve floundered on topics for a while. I started out thinking I’d do something about food politics in Walla Walla, possibly looking at food choice and poverty in supermarkets (original, right?). Once I realized that was some privileged bullshit and not ultimately very useful, I thought I might go back to Ecuador this summer and do more work around the mining conflict in Intag. But the prospect of trying to organize and pay for that trip was daunting, and I realized I needed more than a month to do that story justice (and wanted to spend at least part of the summer in Walla Walla working on some personal projects). Around that time, I went to the border to work with No More Deaths and came home very angry and inspired to learn more. Since then, I’ve been reading everything I can get my hands on about border politics and history and race in the U.S.

I talked to Aaron, my advisor, and he suggested doing a thesis looking at the Sierra Club’s stance on immigration. The Sierra Club has a very fraught history with immigration, going from a staunchly anti-immigration position (as a way of preventing U.S. population growth) to a neutral position, to current opposition to the border wall and other aspects of border enforcement policy.

I liked this as a starting point for a few reasons. My degree will be in politics and environmental studies, so I need to do something related to both. I also think that while personal stories of undocumented immigrants and the horrors of Border Patrol abuse are interesting, they’ve been done well by other groups. And I liked the idea of a thesis project that totally related to the border, but didn’t rely on interviewing marginalized people and asking them, “How much does your life suck right now because of my government being racist and generally terrible at life?”

The gameplan now is to spend a few days in Tucson doing interviews with any and everyone who has thoughts about immigration and the environment, then volunteer with No More Deaths for two weeks in Agua Prieta, Sonora, with migrants who have just been deported. Then I’ll be back in Tucson for about four days to do more interviews with local environmental and human rights/border organizations.

I had my first two interviews today and I’m already so excited to dive into this project. Aaron told me that if I want, I can do my thesis as a piece of longform journalism (with an accompanying literature review). I’m basically approaching my conversations with different activists and environmentalists in Tucson as part of an extended journalism project, and I already have so many great things to think about. Tomorrow, I have at least one more interview, plus a whole list of new people to contact. There are so many angles and issues to explore, from whether environmental groups can form effective coalitions with civil society groups advocating immigration reform, to the discourse over the environmental degradation caused by Border Patrol activities in the desert. I can tell that narrowing this thesis into a real topic is going to be a challenge, and I’m really looking forward to sorting it all out.

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