Grace Argo - Summer 2019
I am a History & Women’s Studies PhD student at the University of Michigan. My scholarship focuses on the history of law, medicine, and social work as they relate to social and cultural attitudes toward father-daughter sexual abuse in the United States. For me, academic research is both a professional and therapeutic pursuit. I was therefore grateful for the chance to spend a summer working with the Unaccompanied Children’s team at MIRC preparing special immigrant juvenile status petitions and asylum applications for youth in Michigan foster care, many of whom were teenage girls fleeing abusive families in their countries of origin.
At MIRC, I used my professional training as a feminist researcher and historian to collect and synthesize information about country conditions for asylum briefs. My job was not simply to compile data and statistics on violence against women and children; for each client, I had to craft a narrative that connected her personal story of abuse to the political, social, and historical context around her. In other words, I had to show how family violence does not occur in isolation from wider patterns of aggression and impunity outside the home, and how histories of dispossession and displacement can simultaneously intensify violence toward children and warp communal responses to it.
One of the projects I most enjoyed during my summer at MIRC was creating a Know Your Rights presentation about sexual and reproductive health care for unaccompanied minors in Michigan foster care. Many immigrant girls in foster care are from countries where women are prosecuted for reproductive crimes at rates deeply at odds with soaring impunity for other violence. In the United States, they are then burdened with the unfamiliar task of self-advocating for contraceptive care in a strange country surrounded by people they don’t know well enough to feel comfortable asking intimate questions. The Know Your Rights presentation aims to empower girls by clarifying their legal rights with respect to family planning services and encouraging them to use MIRC as a resource to protect those rights.
My summer at MIRC allowed me to find a sense of community working with an organization that supports children in their fight for freedom from violence and in their journeys to healing and safety. The Unaccompanied Children’s team does powerful work, and with so much love for the children they represent. I am glad that I was able to contribute to it for a summer and highly recommend the experience to anyone for whom MIRC’s mission resonates.