Roger Thayer Stone Center For Latin American Studies

Tulane University

Birmingham Symposium introduces Tulane students to peers at other universities to share research and ideas.

April 24th, 2011

Photo courtesy of Susan DeLapp

By Shearon Roberts

Conducting research, presenting findings and taking feedback became second nature to Tulane students who participated in the 19th Latin American Studies Symposium held at Birmingham-Southern College on April 8.

For many Tulane undergraduate students, it was not their first tussle with the academic research world. The Birmingham conference brought together students from Latin American studies based programs all over the Southeast to present their original research. Tulane students in particular said they were fully prepared for the conference, thanks, in part, to the Tulane Undergraduate Conference on Latin America held in the Fall 2010 semester, which is a capstone class requirement for Latin American Studies majors.

“It allowed us to see the strengths of the Stone Center,” said Rachel Young, a senior double major in Latin American Studies and International Development from Kansas City, Mo, who had her first time at academic public speaking at the 2010 TUCLA conference.
“The first time I printed out a speech and read directly from it. This time, I only wrote down points and gave the lecture in a less formal way,” Young said. “I realized that the audience was more engaged the second time I was better able to explain my points. I received some interesting questions that I can use to continue my research.”

Now, outside the comforts of Tulane, Young said that at the Birmingham conference she got to see how students from other universities approached her topic of immigration. Young’s paper on Peruvian migration to Chile argued that economic reasons are not the only factors prompting this form of migration in South America, while her fellow panelist Rachel Robinson of Rhodes College showed how culture plays a role for Bolivian immigrants who move to Argentina.

“Most scholars have concluded that the process is completely economically driven, but as I was doing my research on the topic, it didn’t make sense,” Young said. “People were not economically benefitting from the migration. So I developed four different reasons: a culturally embedded process, feminine opportunities, politically motivated, and encouraged by the media.”

When seeing that her fellow panelist from another university found a similar finding through her research, Young said, “It was interesting to see what other people were doing in the same field, but from different areas.”

The TUCLA conference in the Fall also encouraged Tulane junior Jessica Frankel to participate in the Birmingham conference this semester. Frankel, a Latin American Studies major from Mount Kisco, N.Y. sat on a panel of students from Rollins College, Sewanee: The University of the South, as well as from Tulane, with a panel moderator from Trinity University. The panel looked at economics and agriculture in Latin America with Frankel’s contribution to the discussion taking a look at Bolivian indigenous identity and growing coca.

“I have found that the commodification of coca as the result of the Drug War, coupled with struggles over resource ownership resulting from neoliberal reforms, have encouraged many Bolivians to shift from shunning to embracing their indigenous roots,” said Frankel, who developed a passion for the topic over several classes. “This has had a very interesting effect on politics in the region, and in 2005 Bolivia elected the first indigenous president of the world.”

Frankel, who plans to pursue a master’s degree, said Stone Center faculty such as Dr. Edith Wolfe, who accompanied the Tulane students to the conference, encourage research and presentations in the class room. The practice gives students like her a head start for an academic career, she said, and her research in class, has encouraged her to apply for a grant to travel to Bolivia to carry out field research next year.

One such student who has already made a head start is Susan DeLapp, who will graduate from Tulane in May 2011. DeLapp, who presented at the Birmingham Symposium, has become more seasoned to the academic conference world. The Albuquerque, N.M. native made her debut in February at the Institute of Latin American Studies Student Association conference, a graduate student conference that was held in Austin, Texas.

“I was very happy to represent the Stone Center undergraduate program at this graduate student conference,” DeLapp said. “This conference is the oldest and largest student-run conference. The caliber of research of my fellow presenters was beyond my own, but I learned so much and it was my first time presenting among real scholars who were well advanced in their studies.”

For DeLapp, who plans to pursue graduate studies in Public Health or Latin American studies, the Birmingham conference allowed her to present her research on international aid and women’s groups in Haiti. Like her fellow Tulane presenters, attending conferences help create links with students from other universities who study similar issues in different countries. A fellow presenter on her panel, from Trinity University, discussed social policy and economic development in Salta, a province in Argentina.
“It was really great to present for people who shared my common interests so we were able to discuss and learn from each other,” DeLapp said.

Bolivia + People
Marcello Canuto
Director - Middle American Research Institute, Professor - Anthropology