In 2019, the LWS faculty launched a new initiative aimed at bringing the experiences of our students to a broader audience. We were honored to receive a Presidential Faculty/Student Research Collaboration Award from John Jay College to support the preliminary phase of this project, which will work with student focus groups to define the research priorities of their communities, as students understand them. We broadly envision that the project will involve students in collecting primarily qualitative data from their home communities throughout the five boroughs and the broader metropolitan area.
Since all LWS majors are required to take a Senior Research Colloquium, there is an opportunity to use the research projects from that course in the development of this new project. The Research Colloquium requires students to conduct primary research about how law operates in their social worlds, and how people respond. Our students have relationships that they use to build authentic trust in pursuit of mutually beneficial research, making possible a more socially embedded and responsive form of research that is, up to now, rare in Law & Society. Many students produce work of remarkable insight, and the strongest projects each semester could be developed into publishable work with sufficient support. A few recent examples include:
- An interview-based study of how non-Latinx as compared to Latinx undocumented immigrants manage the public display of their undocumented status;
- An oral history of how the “dollar vans” in West Indian communities of Brooklyn were legalized after operating illegally for years;
- An ethnographic study of how prison inmates who have sought parole multiple times navigate parole board hearings.
- An interview-based study on how women of color navigate office policies on hairstyles and personal style within professional environments.
- An oral history of how bodega owners in the gentrifying neighborhood of Washington Heights interact with police when conflicts arise in public spaces.
- An interview-based study of how DACA-mented students take their immigration status into account when making educational and career decisions.
- An interview-based study of how men accepted plea bargains because they understood the system to be built against them thanks to their income level and skin color.
The Research Colloquium is only one piece of the way this project could be streamlined with the major requirements. Additional contributions could occur through assignments in classes, paid student research assistantships, or both. For example, a project on gentrification could ask students in our new 300-level Law in the City course, currently under development, to collect observational and photographic data on changing streetscapes in their neighborhoods throughout the metropolitan area. Meanwhile, students working as paid research assistants and trained in human subjects protection could perform interviews with different stakeholders in key neighborhoods. Research outputs could take the form of articles, a book, and/or an edited volume. We anticipate that publications from this project would be sole- or co-authored by students.
A great deal of research in Law and Society focuses on working-class communities of color like the ones our students call home, but the research is almost always conducted by outsiders. In this research project, our students will help design and conduct the project from the ground up. The project is structured around the principle that no one understands oppressive systems better than those who are oppressed by them. By placing John Jay students at the center of the research and letting them drive its direction, the project will provide a unique perspective not available in conventional research conducted by outsiders.