UIndy forensics crew returns to Texas for migrant identification initiative

For the past four years, a forensics team from the University of Indianapolis has traveled to Texas to exhume and conduct forensic analyses on the remains of migrants who died making the treacherous journey into the United States. forensicscrew

The group not only carefully digs and recovers the remains from unmarked gravesites, but it also works with Texas State University on identification of the bodies. The initiative highlights a humanitarian crisis as bodies continue to be found in small counties with no resources to identify them, said Krista Latham, an associate professor of biology who leads the group.

Latham traveled this month with four graduate students to Texas to analyze the dead and work to recover additional remains from unmarked gravesites. This is the sixth trip Latham has led to the area.

“Students are immersed in a humanitarian crisis where people are dying in mass disaster numbers due to the environment and exposure while crossing our southern border. It provides them with invaluable humanitarian and global citizenship experience. They learn about the complexities of border policies and the realities of thousands of people who are not as privileged as themselves in terms of the expectation of freedom from personal violence,” Latham said.

UIndy graduate student Leann Rizor

UIndy graduate student Leann Rizor

During the first week of the trip, the University team will work with Dr. Kate Spradley of Texas State University on the analysis of unidentified individuals exhumed from Sacred Heart Cemetery in Brooks County, Texas, during the 2013, 2014 and 2017 archeological field seasons. The following week, the forensic crew will then volunteer in Starr County, Texas, to locate and exhume the remains of undocumented migrants who died after crossing the border and were buried in pauper’s graves without identification.

Latham’s work has received local and national media coverage and most recently was the focus of an interactive New York Times report. The group will be documenting their activities in the Beyond Borders blog.

With the U.S. Border Patrol reporting more than 6,000 deaths during illegal border crossings between October 2000 and September 2016, Latham said her work serves a crucial need to identify those who perished on the journey.

“There is a need for forensic experts to identify these individuals and provide their families with information on their fate,” Latham explained. “The dead are mostly South Americans that are fleeing systematic violence that is unimaginable to most people living in the US. We are volunteering a very specialized skill set to counties that have been overwhelmed with deaths that are in mass disaster numbers.”

“In the process, we are also able to bring awareness to the crisis at the border and work to promote social responsibility and humanitarianism as a response to the migrant death crisis,” Latham added.

The project provides numerous opportunities for Latham’s students as they apply their classroom skills in a real-world setting, including scientific skills honed in the University’s human biology program such as skeletal analysis, photography and archeology. Even more importantly, Latham said, students develop an understanding of the complex social, cultural and political realities involved in the work.

Haley Rock, a graduate student in human biology and field expert, is one of the graduate students in the group. She appreciates the experiential learning aspect of the project that allows her to gain a better understanding of human osteology and forensic anthropology.

“This humanitarian work is important to me because it allows me to take part in reuniting family members with their lost loved ones, as well as bring to light the unjust treatment individuals may have faced in their lives,” she said.

“I hope to gain a broader cultural perspective and understanding of the migrant situation that is currently going on in South Texas. Being in the midst of the humanitarian crisis that is occurring in Texas will likely impact me in a way that I cannot even begin to predict,” graduate student Erica Cantor said.

Both Latham and her team acknowledge the challenges of the project, which include working in the South Texas heat, as well as processing their emotions as they work to ease families’ pain in the midst of an untold humanitarian crisis.

“These students are not only learning scientific skills they could never learn in a classroom, but they are being empowered by their actions to promote a sense of common humanity. They are applying their liberal arts and sciences training towards the social responsibility of humanitarianism as a crisis response,” Latham said.

Follow the team’s updates here.

Written by Sara Galer, Senior Communications Specialist, University of Indianapolis. Contact newsdesk@UIndy.edu with your campus news.

Faculty-student collaboration spotlights increased sex trafficking in Indiana

A study at the University of Indianapolis focuses on the growing problem of sex trafficking in Indiana.

The research project conducted by Lisa Elwood-Kirkpatrick, assistant professor in the College of Applied Behavioral Sciences, and doctoral student Samantha Goodin, received national recognition earlier this year when Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) highlighted their efforts in collaboration with the Indiana Protection for Abused and Trafficked Humans (IPATH) initiative. 

Lisa Elwood-Kirkpatrick, assistant professor in the College of Applied Behavioral Sciences

Lisa Elwood-Kirkpatrick

Elwood-Kirkpatrick is a clinical psychologist who has served on IPATH’s outreach and victim services committees, as well as on the board of Restored, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit that works toward long-term services for human trafficking victims. She and Goodin worked with IPATH in 2014 to survey service providers, including therapists and caseworkers who work with high-risk youth. The goal was to estimate the rate of trafficking experiences in provider caseloads.

Preliminary findings from the study, presented at the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT) Conference in the fall of 2015, revealed that 25 percent of the 76 survey completers had previously participated in training specific to human trafficking. Results indicated that while participants routinely assessed some common risk factors for human trafficking, such as sexual abuse, less than half reported routinely assessing experiences of sexual trafficking. After being provided with a definition of sex trafficking, approximately one-third of participants indicated they had worked with at least one youth in the past year who had experiences with sex trafficking. Data collection is complete and the manuscript is being prepared for publication.

The 2016 Indiana State Report on Human Trafficking, which is prepared by the Indiana Office of the Attorney General, includes data from the University of Indianapolis survey. The report documents the rising problem of human trafficking across the United States, including Indiana. One statewide IPATH partner reported 178 trafficked youth in 2016 alone, 94 percent of whom were girls under 21. The Indiana attorney general’s office reports four times as many tips of suspected human trafficking between 2014 and 2016.

“There’s been an increase in identification and awareness of the need here in Indiana over the past few years,” said Elwood-Kirkpatrick.

Sex trafficking occurs when someone forces an individual to engage in a sex act in exchange for something of value and takes the profit from that exchange. In the case of minors, force or coercion does not need to be used in order for the incident to be considered as sex trafficking. Victims do not need to be transported anywhere for sex trafficking to occur. In fact, someone can become a victim without leaving their own home, Elwood-Kirkpatrick said.

Ultimately, it’s a supply and demand problem, Elwood-Kirkpatrick said. “As long as there are people interested in the service and willing to pay for the service, the problem is going to continue,” she explained. “As a society, we have to start being aware of the demand side of it and increasing awareness for those potential purchasers of sex.”

Elwood-Kirkpatrick and Goodin see potential to apply their research findings to alleviate the problem of sex trafficking. Identifying potential victims is the first step toward rescue and treatment. Service providers can achieve that goal by carefully assessing trauma history, while recognizing that victims of sex trafficking tend to enter the mental health or juvenile justice system for other reasons.

“There is increasing interest in the issue of sex trafficking but not very much research yet, and so we hope that our study helps to better define the problem and potentially inform efforts to address it,” Goodin said.

Goodin, in the fourth year of her doctoral program in clinical psychology, appreciates the opportunity to work closely with a faculty member on original research. She will spend her final year of the program working as a full-time intern at a college counseling center. “In applying for my internship, it was very helpful to be able to talk about this work as part of my experiences at UIndy,” Goodin said.

The IPATH survey is just one example of the statewide impact of University of Indianapolis research. Elwood-Kirkpatrick also is contributing to a study that examines treatment outcomes for post-traumatic stress disorder. That study involves nearly 50 community members, some of whom will receive therapy on campus as they work through interpersonal violence issues.

Written by Sara Galer, Senior Communications Specialist, University of Indianapolis. Contact newsdesk@UIndy.edu with your campus news.

Service-learning advocates honored at expo

More than 150 University of Indianapolis students and faculty joined community partners in April for the Community Campus Forum & Service Expo, organized by the Center for Service-Learning & Community Engagement.

Community Campus Forum & Service Expo (Photo by D. Todd Moore)

Community Campus Forum & Service Expo (Photo by D. Todd Moore)

The expo honored students and community partners for their dedication to serving local populations who are most in need through service-learning courses. Students held poster sessions reflecting on lessons learned and their experiences, followed by an awards luncheon. Several faculty members were presented with certificates recognizing their contributions to service learning and completion of this year’s Faculty Development Cohort on Service-Learning at the University.

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NSF grant to help fulfill nationwide STEM education need

grant

The University of Indianapolis will impact the growing local and national need for STEM educators through a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program.

Through the University’s Teach (STEM)³ program, the Noyce grant will enhance collaboration between high-need, local schools to prepare and mentor 36 teacher candidates, who commit to serve as high school STEM teachers after graduation. The grant—the first of its kind for the Teach (STEM)³ program—will help these candidates complete the intensive, one-year program without undue financial hardship. Graduates will emerge with a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degree and fill a critical need to support STEM education.

“This grant is another successful example of the collaborative and strategic efforts of the University of Indianapolis with area schools to respond to the workforce development needs of our state,” said University President Robert Manuel. “Through innovation and creativity, we train future teachers to inspire students in STEM fields and best prepare them for the many future career opportunities while addressing the growing need of employers.”

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University of Indianapolis study to examine epidemic of teen substance addiction

College of Applied Behavioral Sciences study to address obstacles to overcoming addiction

Assistant Professor Katherine Kivisto

Assistant Professor Katherine Kivisto

A study conducted by University of Indianapolis researchers examining the epidemic of teenage substance abuse will be supported through a grant from the National Institute of Health/National Institute of Drug Abuse.

The $300,000 NIH/NIDA grant will support the study by the College of Applied Behavioral Sciences to address an ongoing issue impacting communities across the nation, including Indiana. The grant will fund The Teen Resilience Project, which focuses on understanding the obstacles of addiction and long-term recovery for 13- to 18-year-olds. Assistant Professor Katherine Kivisto at the University of Indianapolis will lead the study.

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Provost’s Lecture: What is the biggest problem in the world?

What is the biggest problem in the world? That depends on who you ask.

University of Indianapolis Professor Dr. Peter Murphy, who teaches philosophy and religion, will address the question at the Provost’s Lecture on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017. Register to attend here.

University of Indianapolis Associate Professor of Philosophy Dr. Peter Murphy

University of Indianapolis Associate Professor of Philosophy Dr. Peter Murphy

Murphy said identifying the world’s greatest dilemma could vary widely depending on who you ask and how they have been affected. The answers could range from poverty and cancer to issues like abortion, climate change or nuclear weapons.
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University forensics team identifying migrant remains, addressing humanitarian crisis

A University of Indianapolis research team in January continued the painstaking work to identify the remains of dozens of migrants who perished during the rough trek in to the United States.

Beyond Borders TeamSince 2013, Dr. Krista Latham, an associate professor of biology and anthropology, has led a team of University volunteers to Texas with hopes of identifying the remains of people who were buried in unmarked plots. The dead are migrants from Latin America discovered by landowners along the border between Mexico and the United States.   Read more