Member Spotlight: Dr. Adriano Udani, University of Missouri, St. Louis

May 2022 Member Spotlight

Dr. Adriano Udani
University of Missouri, St. Louis

Associate Professor of Political Science; Director of the Public Policy Administration Program; and, Research Advisor for the Community Innovation and Action Center (CIAC)

Member since 2006

 

How did you learn about APSA? When did you become a member of APSA, and what prompted you to join?

I learned about APSA in graduate school at the University of Minnesota in the Department of Political Science. I became a member shortly before going onto the job market in 2011-2012.

 

How have APSA membership and services been valuable to you at different stages of your career?

My APSA membership has developed alongside my career interests in research, teaching, and service from a graduate student to a faculty member. I once used my membership to solely find jobs in the academic market; now, my colleagues and I have used our membership to conduct faculty searches. My teaching and research interests have changed over time. One of the many things I like about being an academic is that I have the privilege to pursue those interests and see where they take me. I’ve participated in the APSA Interpretive Methodologies workshop, the Teaching and Learning conference, conference panels, and invited roundtable discussions. I’ve been lucky to find supportive people along the way and helped me further articulate and envision what I want to contribute to political science.

 

Can you tell us about your professional background and your research?

I am an Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Public Policy Administration Program. I also serve as the Research Advisor for the Community Innovation and Action Center, a center that focuses on using research methods to engage and collaborate with communities in work devoted to making our region more equitable and resilient.

My research has involved studying how immigration policymaking influences political attitudes toward immigrants and migrant communities in the United States. I have examined how U.S. attitudes toward immigration has also contributed to mass political support for restricting forms of democratic participation as well as fostered distrust toward electoral institutions and outcomes. Tenure has allowed me to pursue my biggest passion and work that I have always wanted to do, even before entering graduate school. Currently partnering with immigration attorneys and grassroots advocacy groups in St. Louis, I work with Central American and Mexican asylum seekers to create a process that educates, accompanies, pays, and positions asylum seekers as policy leaders and knowledge producers to abolish all forms of detention. This work provided many benefits for my work partners who are asylum seekers, grassroot organizers, and service providers. I am most proud of this work that has been mutually developed by all of us, and has provided outcomes that have a real impact for asylum seekers.

 

As a member of the 2019 class of Institute for Community Engaged Research Fellows, can you tell us about your time in the program and how it supported your research?

As a member of the inaugural cohort of ICER, I felt that it was one of the few professional development opportunities where I felt totally immersed and genuinely engaged in discussions. I think it was because I was with people who were in a similar position as me. ICER helped me connect to creative, thoughtful, resourceful, and energizing political scientists at different stages of their careers and in different kinds of academic institutions. It’s been wonderful to have a supportive group of people to engage in discussion, writing, and professional development. It’s a complicated terrain, and I appreciate learning from different perspectives.

Entering ICER, I wanted to learn more about what it takes for researchers, practitioners, and people to develop truly mutually beneficial partnerships to address social problems, particularly ones that are deemed important by people with lived experiences of oppression. I instantly gravitated toward the questions that guided our discussions: what is the role and position of the political scientist in society? To whom are we accountable? Who should do this work? What is our role in partnership work? We engaged in constructive and challenging discussions that helped us as a group and individually explore own responsibility to inquire to research and write about injustice, violence, and failures of governance. These discussions generated a lot of self-reflection about who are and should be considered knowledge producers, how do we genuinely commit to co-learning and listening to non-academics in partnership work, and what kind of outcomes would really matter. Having a cohort of people with such a rich and different experience with academic-community partnerships was such a valuable resource.

At the time, I was involved with local advocacy efforts with Central American and Mexican asylum seekers in St. Louis, who were being forcibly enrolled into the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program (ISAP) administered by Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE). Rather than being detained as they wait for their immigration court hearing, ISAP enrollees were required to wear ankle monitors. Asylum seekers themselves have expressed an interest to find a way to remove their ankle monitors and abolish them. Some have worn ankle monitors for more than two years. Coming out of ICER, I felt like I had had more clarity about how to equitably position asylum seekers as organic intellectuals and movement leaders who could identify a path forward. For me, I felt that researchers, service providers, and organizers locally had to do a lot of de-centering themselves in advocacy efforts and instead let asylum seekers lead and reject dominant stereotypes that they were only recipients of others’ services, leadership, and knowledge.

 

You recently received a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation.  How has this grant allowed you to move further with your project?

My partners and I are grateful for the Henry Luce Foundation’s support of “The Pursuit of Dignity.” The work aligns strongly with the foundation’s vision to build knowledge and use it to enhance action or implementation. It is supported by the Henry Luce Foundation’s Religion and Theology Program as part of a new initiative to advance public knowledge on the topic of race, justice, and religion in America.

“The Pursuit of Dignity” extends local work that created a process to foster collective action through regular meetings that offer asylum seekers emotional support and decision-making authority to navigate highly uncertain and violent environments enabled by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and its private contractors. We started with a group of 8 asylum seekers in November 2020; the group has grown to 48 people to date. The group is a mix of people who currently wear ankle monitors and who had them removed before joining the group. Facilitating group support meetings with asylum seekers who can discuss their fears and hopes as well as stand with others is itself a form of resistance and fills a need in the community. Our group meetings also became a safe place to provided spaces to discuss fears, concerns, and adverse effects of COVID-19 as well.

“I instantly gravitated toward the questions that guided our discussions: what is the role and position of the political scientist in society? To whom are we accountable? Who should do this work? What is our role in partnership work?”During our project, 19 people self-advocated in front of an ICE officer or initiated a telephone call and successfully remove their ankle monitors. Of the 48 active members, only two (who are the newest members) are wearing ankle monitors. We’re finding that our asylum seeker partners were not only building courage, but our support group provided the space for asylum seekers to exchange information about ankle monitor removal and are thus more informed about how to self-advocate for themselves and others.

Through “The Pursuit of Dignity,” we will support “advocacy hubs” in other U.S. cities over the next three years. A hub will consist of a group of asylum seekers, an academic researcher, and an organization(s) that prioritizes ankle monitor removal work and provides legal and/or social services and/or mutual assistance. The St. Louis team, including asylum seekers (who have named themselves “Migrantes Unidos”), will lead a training for advocacy hubs on how to equitably offer information, resources, and compensation for asylum seekers to lead and own system changes as movement leaders in their respective region. Advocacy hubs will also receive funds to compensate asylum seeker partners for the time and presence they give toward ending all forms of detention.

Our training will position asylum seekers to produce three main forms of practical knowledge to end state-sanctioned violence against them: 1) highlight the physical and mental toll of ankle monitors and other immigration surveillance tactics that are inappropriately referred to as “Alternatives to Detention;” 2) develop collective strategies to prevent harm on oneself and others; 3) visualize core values and priorities to end all forms of detention in immigration policy enforcement. The project will culminate with a national conference featuring sessions on faith, race, abolition, partnerships, and mutual assistance informed and co-led by asylum-seekers. Our work and resources provided will hopefully provide asylum seekers residing in other U.S. regions new opportunities to lead discussions among local leaders, including congregations, on how to abolish detention humanely and with dignity.

 

Which programs or events would you recommend to people who are not members of the association, and why?

The Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University has convened The Frontiers of Democracy conference annually since 2009, with a hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It traditionally attracted about 140 activists and scholars or advanced students from many countries for relatively informal discussions of civic topics. This year, the conference will be held on June 24, 2022. Organizers have intentionally designed the conference shorter and hybrid in format. For more information, please click here.

“The Pursuit of Dignity” team will be sending out a request for proposals soon. We plan to offer training for the hubs beginning in August.

 

Is there anything else you’d like people to know about you or the work that you do?

I would like to amplify the work of my community partners. Without them, this collective work would not exist. “Migrantes Unidos” is a self-named group of Central American and Mexican asylum seekers in St. Louis, who are collectively making efforts to reject all forms of detention deployed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the agency’s private contractors that administer “Alternative to Detention” (ATD) Programs. The trauma-informed framework that is the basis for recruitment and group meeting was co-developed with María Torres Wedding, MPH, formerly the Director of client services at the Migrant and Immigrant Community Action (MICA) Project. Grassroots organizers at the Interfaith Committee on Latin America  – Sara John, IFCLA’s Executive Director; Allie Seleyman, IFCLA Accompaniment Co-Coordinator; and Ángel Flores

Fontánez, IFCLA Accompaniment Co-Coordinator – have also provided the vision and resources for the mutual assistance work to position asylum seekers as leaders.

Finally, I would again like to express our gratitude to the Henry Luce Foundation. The Henry Luce Foundation seeks to enrich public discourse by promoting innovative scholarship, cultivating new leaders, and fostering international understanding. Established in 1936 by Henry R. Luce, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Time, Inc., the Luce Foundation advances its mission through grantmaking and leadership programs in the fields of Asia, higher education, religion and theology, art, and public policy.


  • The APSA Member Spotlight program features one member each quarter in the APSA Member Magazine, Political Science Today. Nominations for the award (including self-nominations) may be submitted by members and nonmembers of APSA. Learn more here