Migrations initiative announces cross-campus awards

What impact does weather have on Mexican migrants’ decisions and routes? What is the connection between contemporary human migrations and the forced migration of the African slave trade?

Can we relocate a sinking city to become a new political crossroads and hub of biocultural diversity? And how are emerging diseases like COVID-19 related to the increasingly mobile practices of humans and animals?

The world is on the move, and Cornell faculty members are finding answers to these questions with a boost from Cornell’s first Migrations grants, awarded by the Global Grand Challenge, Migrations, which launched in October 2019.

The Migrations initiative is supporting researchers and students from eight colleges and schools across Cornell, including Cornell Tech and Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City. The grants include 14 multidisciplinary collaborations and projects – ranging from large team projects with awards up to $150,000 to individual faculty research, workshops and student engagement – all tackling the complex global issue of migration.

Three interdisciplinary research teams will launch Cornell’s new Migrations Lab. One of the teams, co-funded by the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, is a multicampus collaboration focused on advancing the health of refugee and immigrant populations in the U.S. through research that is at the nexus of law, medicine and technology.

In the study – led by Gunisha Kaur (Weill Cornell Medicine), Stephen Yale-Loehr (Cornell Law School) and Deborah Estrin (Cornell Tech) – the researchers hypothesize that increased digital access to information about legal rights will increase engagement between refugees and immigrants and health care systems. Estrin is the founder of the Health Tech Hub on the Roosevelt Island campus; Kaur and Yale-Loehr have received dual funding and will serve as new Migrations faculty fellows, leading a group that will include two postdoctoral fellows in the fall.

“We were so excited by the proposals we received in response to the Migrations call. Collaborations between faculty across campus are what make Cornell so well-positioned to answer deeply interdisciplinary questions that cross historical periods, species and geographical borders,” said Wendy Wolford, vice provost for international affairs. “I believe that, taken together, these projects will transform how we understand, teach and engage with questions of migration.”

Faculty research teams and projects

Gunisha Kaur (Weill Cornell Medicine), Stephen Yale-Loehr (Cornell Law), Deborah Estrin (Cornell Tech): This team will test the hypothesis that increased knowledge about legal rights can help refugees and immigrants by boosting their engagement with health care systems.

Filiz Garip (College of Arts and Sciences), Nancy Chau (Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management), Ariel Ortiz-Bobea (Dyson): This team will investigate how gradual changes in weather shape migration decisions and routes from Mexico to the United States.

Holger Klinck (Cornell Lab of Ornithology), Shorna Allred (College of Agriculture and Life Sciences), Victoria Beard (College of Architecture, Art and Planning): This team will deploy a mixed-methods approach to analyze the social-ecological impacts of relocating Indonesia’s capital city, Jakarta, a global bio-cultural hotspot.

Individual faculty research projects

Edward E. Baptist (A&S) will investigate one of the most consequential processes of migration in human history, which began with the forced migration of Africans in bondage to the New World.

Ian Kysel (Cornell Law) will continue to develop the International Migrants’ Bill of Rights, including its impact on global law and policy debates.

Beth Lyon (Cornell Law) seeks to improve the welfare of workers in the Southeast Asian fishing and tea industries through her project documenting conditions and leveraging primary research findings.

Aaron N. Rice (Lab of Ornithology) will analyze acoustic survey data in a biocultural study to pinpoint how bowhead whale seasonal migration patterns are linked to climate change and how recent changes affect Alaskan Arctic whale hunters.

Workshops and student engagement

Anindita Banerjee (A&S), Debra Castillo (A&S): During the spring 2021 semester, Banerjee and Castillo will lead a workshop series and an engaged-learning course on border spaces and environmental justice.

Sahara Byrne (CALS), Peter Enns (A&S): As co-directors of the Cornell Center for Social Sciences, Byrne and Enns bring speakers to campus to discuss migrations. As part of the annual lecture series Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson will visit campus and give a lecture on the Great Migration.

Maria Cristina Garcia (A&S): Garcia will hold a symposium and book workshop in April to examine the impacts of post-1980 immigration laws and policies on U.S. society and transnational immigrants.

Gen Meredith (College of Veterinary Medicine), Alexander J. Travis (CVM), Gary R. Whittaker (CVM): Following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), Cornell University Public Health and veterinary medicine faculty will lead a series of interdisciplinary workshops with researchers from Weill Medical, China and Hong Kong. At stake is the question: why do new, global infectious diseases keep emerging, where do they come from and how can we address their rise and impact? 

Muna Ndulo (Cornell Law): Ndulo’s initiative creates summer internship opportunities in Ghana through the Institute for African Development. The 2020 focus is sea turtle migration. In 2021, the focus will shift to human movement: the economic migration of female porters from remote rural settings to urban locales.

Kenneth Roberts (A&S): The director of the Einaudi Center’s Latin American Studies Program, Roberts will organize a research workshop and a series of seminars exploring migratory flows to the United States from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean Basin region.

Rebecca Slayton (A&S), Karim-Aly S. Kassam (CALS): Slayton, director of the Einaudi Center’s Reppy Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, and Kassam will lead a research workshop on peacebuilding, climate change and migration at the dawn of the third millennium.

The Einaudi Center and the Office of Engagement Initiatives supported the student engagement grant funding. Students interested in studying migrations can enroll in the Einaudi Center’s new migration studies minor.

Claudia Ro is communications assistant for the Migrations initiative. Sheri Englund is associate director of communication for International Affairs.

Read this story in The Cornell Chronicle.

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