UIndy Beyond Borders Team makes international impact

FalfurriasAs the humanitarian crisis at the southern border of the United States dominates national headlines, the University of Indianapolis Beyond Borders Team highlights the impact on human lives. Since 2013, the team has participated in “Operation Identification” in Brooks County, Texas, assisting in the exhumation of hundreds of unidentified people who died while crossing the southern border of the United States and the identification of 30 of these individuals to date.

Krista Latham, director of the UIndy Human Identification Center and associate professor of biology, leads students on the Beyond Borders Team to southern Texas every year to exhume the remains of people who have been buried without identification and, in some cases, without any grave markers. The team participates in “Operation Identification” in partnership with anthropology faculty and students from Texas State University in San Marcos.

The Beyond Borders initiative allows University of Indianapolis students to expand their field work and forensic skills as they meet the urgent need in border communities to identify the dead and help loved ones achieve closure. Hundreds have died while making the treacherous southern border crossing, and the deaths have overwhelmed local law enforcement. According to the Missing Migrant project, nearly 400 deaths were reported along the U.S.-Mexico border in 2018.



In early January 2019, the Beyond Borders Team conducted several dig sites the Sacred Heart Burial Park in Falfurrias, Texas, which is one of the areas hardest hit by the humanitarian crisis.

 Exhumed remains will be processed, analyzed and identified at Texas State University. Latham said the remains discovered in January were older burials, indicating that more burials might exist in small areas of the cemetery.


Latham explained that the Beyond Borders Humanitarian Science missions not only allow students to apply the forensic skills they’ve learned in the classroom to real-world situations, but also to better understand how their actions have far-reaching implications.

“Students are seeing how the process of exhumation and identification not only impacts the deceased and their immediate family, but how their actions can impact a community on a broader level,” Latham said.

“On this trip they are learning to apply a multitude of forensic archeological search techniques, and immersing themselves in different aspects of the humanitarian crisis at our southern border by interacting with local community members, Border Patrol and local law enforcement, individuals from various organizations that are a part of this large scale identification initiative as well as Latin American refugee families. These experiences are invaluable in their professional and personal development,” she added.

Students have been documenting their experiences on the Beyond Borders blog. Samantha Beck ’20 (human biology) described the team’s visit to the Humanitarian Respite Center, operated by the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in McAllen, Texas, where students donated food items and toured the facility, which provides assistance to immigrants.

Seeing the Respite Center in action showed me that the majority of the people crossing our borders have fled to our country because they think they will have the best chance at changing their fate. It was beautiful to see so many volunteers from the community that were there out of genuine care for the human lives around them, whether they were US citizens or not,” Beck said.

Arden Mower ’20 (human biology) wrote about meeting volunteers from the South Texas Human Rights Center, which hosts the Missing Migrant Hotline to provide support to families whose loved ones have gone missing. She reflected on her time in Texas as “nothing short of a life-changing experience.”

While we are gaining archaeological exhumation experience, we have also had opportunities to participate in search and recoveries work together as a team, and learn about a real humanitarian crisis that is occurring just south of our border,” Mower said. “We have met a lot of different people here in South Texas who are all doing their part to help people. It is an honor to apply the forensic skills which we have learned in our classes at UIndy to do our part for a cause which is so important.”

“Secrets of the Dead” forensic expert Scott Warnasch to speak at University of Indianapolis Nov. 16

Scott Warnasch

Scott Warnasch

A nationally known forensic archaeologist will share secrets revealed by the discovery of an iron coffin in a talk at the University of Indianapolis Nov. 16.

During “American Mummies: The Industrial Birth of the Eternal Dead,” Scott Warnasch will speak about his most recent episode of “Secrets of the Dead – The Woman in the Iron Coffin” that aired in October 2018 on PBS. The event will be held at 5:00 p.m. in Lilly Performance Hall in the Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center. A question and answer session will follow the lecture.

Krista Latham, director of the University of Indianapolis Human Identification Center, is organizing the talk. Latham’s work to identify the remains of migrants who died while crossing the southern border has been nationally recognized.

Register here for this free, L/P event.

Warnasch, a consultant who conducts field and lab work in forensic archaeology, will discuss the investigation surrounding the identity of a woman found inside a Fisk iron coffin that was disturbed by construction crews in New York City in 2011. The woman was identified as a descendent of the St. Mark AME (African Methodist Episcopal) Church community, and the discovery shed light on early African-American history and the development of the AME Church.

The iron coffin, which was responsible for the woman’s remarkable level of preservation, was expensive yet very practical during the early years of steam travel. Many historical figures were buried in these coffins; however, in this case the coffin contained an ordinary citizens, Warnasch said, and a well-preserved body can reveal details about the overall health and customs of a particular social group in that historical period.

“The clothing and how they were prepared for burial speak volumes about things that don’t get recorded for everyday people,” Warnasch said. “The people who were represented in these early iron coffins are like time travelers from the beginning of the modern world.”

Originally reported as a potential crime scene, investigators in New York realized they were in fact dealing with an archaeological site more than 150 years old. The deceased was identified as Martha Peterson, who died of smallpox around 1851. Warnasch said the case highlights the expertise that archaeologists can contribute to the forensic field.

“Archaeologists are specifically trained to do exactly the meticulous documentation and step-by-step process of investigation and body recovery that most law enforcement officers are not trained to do,” Warnasch explained.

Warnasch said his mission is to teach people how much more there is to understand about grave investigation than “just grabbing a shovel and getting the body out of the ground. I add a layer of context to that crime scene that other people don’t focus on.”

Warnasch’s professional experience includes leading the human remains recovery operation at Ground Zero in the wake of the World Trade Center attack on September 11th, 2001.

“There were valuable lessons learned on what worked the first time around and what didn’t,” he said. “It proves that archaeological methodology is solid and a vital tool in mass disaster responses.”


While the topic is a favorite of film and television programs like “Bones” and “CSI” as well as a plethora of documentaries, the reality of a thorough investigation is a far cry from the grave-robbing so breezily depicted in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (which incidentally was released the same summer that Warnasch did his first field school.)

“I don’t do a lot of excavations with a whip!” Warnasch joked. “There’s a method to it. There’s a lot of thought and research that goes on. Context is so important – you have to understand the environment that you’re working in.”

Warnasch hopes to see even more convergence between the fields of crime scene recovery and archaeology. For students interested in pursuing a career in the field, he recommends being “open-minded about what you’re willing to work on.  Digging in Europe teaches you things you’d never learn digging in California. To get a well-rounded experience will leave you open to opportunities.”

Learn more about Scott Warnasch

Register here for this free, L/P event.

Written by Sara Galer, Communications Manager, University of Indianapolis. Contact newsdesk@uindy.edu with your campus news.

Faculty-student collaboration sheds light on DNA forensic techniques

Krista Latham

Krista Latham

Krista Latham, associate professor of biology and anthropology, and Jessica Miller ’19 (M.S., human biology), recently published a paper on advances in the forensic sciences. Latham is director of the University of Indianapolis Human Identification Center, which assists coroners throughout the country in identifying human remains. Latham’s work in identifying migrants who died while crossing the southern U.S. border has been recognized nationally.

“DNA recovery and analysis from skeletal material in modern forensic contexts” was published in Forensic Sciences Research in October 2018. Latham explained that the article “discusses developments in forensic genetics and focuses specifically on obtaining and analyzing DNA from human skeletal remains, as well as improvements in utilizing DNA for identification purposes.”

Jessica Miller ’19

Jessica Miller ’19

“Advances in DNA research have allowed for smaller quantities of  DNA to be analyzed,” Miller said. “This will ultimately lead to more identifications.  The article also discusses different databases that are available for comparisons of DNA from unidentified individuals to families of the missing.”

The faculty-student collaboration involved research on the newest forensic DNA technologies and collecting literature on the topic.

“Dr. Latham and I met weekly to discuss the material and work on the article. This included revising multiple drafts, creating a strong collaboration between the both of us that generated some great discussions, and inspiration that lead to my thesis research project on DNA transfer,” Miller said.

“It was a great experience working with Jessica on this publication,” Latham added. “A true benefit of the small program sizes at UIndy is the ability to work closely with students on research projects, presentations and publications that can have big impacts on the field of forensic science.”

Following graduation, Miller plans to develop her forensic and scientific skills by working in the local medicolegal community on death investigations, and hopes to pursue a doctorate in anthropology. She is grateful for the support of biology faculty.

“Dr. Latham and other human biology faculty have been very generous with their time and have always been present and active in my studies. They provide and supervise many extracurricular activities that make this program unique, like the ability to conduct research that I can present at conferences, the opportunities to publish in scientific journals and the ability to participate in forensic work through the Human Identification Center.”

University of Indianapolis Beyond Borders Team installing water stations in Texas borderlands

waterstation600BROOKS COUNTY, Texas – The University of Indianapolis Beyond Borders Team continues its humanitarian and scientific mission this month with the installation of water stations in South Texas. Led by Krista Latham, director of the University of Indianapolis Human Identification Center and associate professor of biology and anthropology, the team continued its collaboration with the South Texas Human Rights Center with the goal of preventing migrant deaths by installing the water stations.

Latham’s research and field work has brought national attention to the humanitarian crisis happening at the border. Since 2013, Latham and her graduate students on the Beyond Borders Team have been working with other organizations and universities to uncover remains from unmarked grave sites and identify the bodies of those who have died while making the journey to the United States.

Latham explained that the water stations are an important extension of the project’s ongoing work in South Texas.

Follow the Beyond Borders blog.

“Our work would not be necessary if there were not so many deaths in the desert due to overheating and dehydration.  This could partly be prevented by providing life-saving water. I believe our humanitarian aid contributions to this crisis are expressed in many different ways,” she said.

The group’s current trip to Brooks County involved the team successfully raising $750 to cover the cost of supplies for ten water stations. The students will prepare and set up the water stations at various locations throughout the county, which covers 944 square miles of brush land and desert.

“It is our hope that the donation and our work in setting up the new water stations will save countless lives,” Latham said.

The Beyond Borders Team will also participate in searches for the remains of those who died while crossing the border. If remains are located, Latham’s group will assist in recovering the remains so they can be identified and repatriated home.

As forensic specialists we volunteer a very specific skill set that contributes to the identification and repatriation of the unidentified migrants in the Texas Borderlands, but on a broader scale we are working to promote basic human rights. We are treating these individuals with dignity in death as we work towards giving them a name and a memory,” Latham said.

waterstation2For the students on the Beyond Borders Team, the trip is an opportunity to participate in a real world application of scholarly knowledge, skills and humanitarianism.  

“This opportunity represents hands-on training in the practice of global citizenship by empowering the students to utilize their education in a way that operates to promote a sense of common humanity and social responsibility. Promoting human rights and working for social justice in this unique situation will provide UIndy students the opportunity to grow professionally and personally,” Latham said.

Angela Zimmer, who is pursuing a master’s degree in human biology, is a team rookie on the trip.

“We are so proud of all we were able to achieve, but the reason for our work here has not been lost on us. The water stations we built today may save lives. The searches we conduct may help bring loved ones back to their families. Did we put in a lot of work today? Absolutely, but our work here is not finished. We’ve reached one goal but we’re only just getting started,” she said.

Follow the Beyond Borders blog.

 

Journalist Dawn Paley shines light on Mexico’s “disappeared” with April 12 lecture

Dawn Paley

Dawn Paley

An internationally-acclaimed journalist will speak at the University of Indianapolis in April about community-led efforts in Mexico to locate the bodies of disappeared citizens. Dawn Paley will present “Grassroots Searches for the Disappeared in Mexico” at 6:00 p.m., April 12, UIndy Hall B in the Schwitzer Student Center. The event is free and open to the public.

Since the disappearance of 43 students in Guerrero, Mexico, in September 2014, family and community-led groups have begun to carry out land searches for the bodies of disappeared people in areas throughout the country. In this talk, Paley explores the crisis of enforced disappearance in Mexico and takes a detailed look at how one group of family members of the disappeared in the northern state of Coahuila has organized to carry out searches.

Dawn Paley is the author of “Drug War Capitalism,” which traces the “Drug War” story from Latin America to U.S. boardrooms and political offices. Paley, who is based in Vancouver, Canada, has written for magazines and newspapers including the The Guardian, Vancouver Sun, The Globe and Mail, BC Business Magazine, The Nation, The Dominion, Ms. Magazine, The Tyee, the Georgia Straight, Briarpatch, NACLA Reports, This Magazine, Canadian Dimension, Counterpunch, The Vue Weekly, Watershed Sentinel and Upside Down World. She is currently a doctoral student at the Autonomous University of Puebla in Mexico.

This event is being organized by the student members of FOUND (Forensics at UIndy). Krista Latham, director of the University of Indianapolis Human Identification Center and associate professor of biology, is their faculty advisor. Paley contributed a chapter to Latham’s most recent book, The Sociopolitics of Migrant Death and Repatriation, co-edited with Alyson O’Daniel, assistant professor of anthropology. Latham said the talk will be a fascinating look into forensic science, social justice, Latin American issues, journalism and more.

“The topic is not only interesting and relevant, but Dawn is a young person, a woman and a student. It really shows how you can use your education to do amazing things,” Latham said.

Four years after 43 students from a teacher’s college were forcibly disappeared in the Mexican state of Guerrero, there are no clear answers as to why security forces attacked and detained the students or where their bodies may be located, Latham explained.

While Paley’s talk will focus on this particular instance of forced disappearance, Latham said it’s important to understand that such incidents are not rare in global populations.

“Forced disappearances are on the rise globally as governments try to avoid accountability for their actions,” Latham explained. “In the United States, this crisis unfolds along the southern border as thousands are disappeared as they try to make their way from Latin America to the U.S.”

Latham leads a team of graduate students to the Texas borderlands every year to identify the remains of people who died crossing the border so that their families can be notified. She sees many parallels between Paley’s work and her own – as citizens step into the role of investigators and activists when authorities won’t act.

“Not only does it focus on disappearing and silencing voices, but it also focuses on ways in which science can be considered an act of rebellion,” Latham said.

Read more about Dawn Paley.

Women’s History Month: Celebrating female pioneers

In honor of Women’s History Month, we asked University of Indianapolis faculty who their role models were.

Many thanks to our contributors! Take a look at the slide show to see who they chose to commemorate.

Communications faculty:
Stephanie Mahin joined the University as assistant professor in fall 2017 and teaches classes in strategic communication, public relations, public speaking and other aspects of communication.

Stephanie Wideman is director of the University’s Forensics Speech and Debate Program and an assistant professor.

Sciences faculty:
Kimberly Baker, an assistant professor of biology, specializes in molecular genetics, cell biology and cancer biology.

Ann Cutler, associate professor of chemistry, is a longtime editor of the Journal of College Science Teaching and has research interests in science text comprehension.

Sandy Davis, associate professor of biology, is an expert in botany, plant reproductive biology and evolutionary biology.

Krista Latham, associate professor of biology, is the director of the University of Indianapolis Human Identification Center. Her work in the Texas borderlands identifying the remains of migrants who died making the perilous journey across the border has been covered by national media. She has published several books on forensic techniques.

Arts faculty:
Rebecca Sorley, professor of music, is Director of Student Support and Coordinator of the Music Business Concentration. She teaches piano to all levels from pre-college through piano majors.

University of Indianapolis faculty highlight migrant death crisis in new book

Latham’s work has brought national attention to the humanitarian crisis happening at the border.

Latham’s work has brought national attention to the humanitarian crisis happening at the U.S. southern border.

A unique new book by University of Indianapolis faculty sheds light on the migrant death crisis in the Texas Borderlands by discussing the circumstances that force people to flee their home countries to seek refuge in the United States – despite the perilous journey. The book also explores the reasons why migrant deaths have reached mass disaster proportions and the techniques employed by forensic scientists to locate and identify the dead.

“Sociopolitics of Migrant Death and Repatriation: Perspectives from Forensic Science” by Krista Latham, associate professor of biology and anthropology, and Alyson O’Daniel, assistant professor of anthropology, explores the migrant death crisis at the U.S. southern border, along with the forensic techniques utilized in this humanitarian crisis. The book focuses on situating the migrant death crisis and response within a broader sociopolitical framework by highlighting the challenges faced by forensic scientists working in this context and the techniques used by cultural anthropologists to contextualize the crisis.
 


“Sociopolitics of Migrant Death and Repatriation” includes chapters written by experts actively working on these issues and discusses how historically-driven conditions of social inequality, resource allocation and policy implementation have contributed to the crisis unfolding along the border today. Latham and O’Daniel organized a symposium based on the book at the 37th Annual Mountain, Desert & Coastal Forensic Anthropologists Meeting in 2017, where the work of ten of the contributing authors was presented and discussed.

“The main focus of the book is to better understand the crisis and the forensic science response as shaped and constrained by broad, systems-level processes of power,” said Latham, who also serves as the director of the University of Indianapolis Human Identification Center.

Latham’s work has brought national attention to the humanitarian crisis happening at the border. Latham and her graduate students on the University of Indianapolis Forensics Team have been working to uncover remains from unmarked grave sites and identify the bodies of those who have died while making the journey to the United States since 2013. In 2017, five Human Biology graduate students, two Anthropology undergraduate students and colleague O’Daniel traveled to Texas with Latham to participate in the project, and in January 2018, she will return to the area with another group of graduate students. (Read more about the project here.)

“Sociopolitics of Migrant Death and Repatriation” introduces readers to some of the forensic science techniques utilized in the migrant identifications, including forensic archaeology to recover the bodies and DNA analysis as a means of positive identification, among other techniques.

“Our authors together have traced how global and local political economic relationships shape what happens to marginalized migrants in life and in death. The picture that emerges is profoundly troubling, but it is not without hope and not without dedicated individuals who are indeed taking action,” O’Daniel said.

In restoring the names and memories of migrants whose identities would otherwise be unknown, Latham said the goal is to create a record that one day will work toward change and social justice.

“As professionals in forensic science, we are able to tell stories and document inequalities that may otherwise go unheard and unnoticed by the vast majority of Americans,” Latham said. “We see the imprints of  lifelong poverty on their bones and teeth. We see the love they have for their families in the photos and notes recovered in their pockets. We document the places they die and bear witness to the fact that these deaths are happening in staggering numbers.”

Follow Latham’s work in Texas here.


 

UIndy students engage with past through hands-on fieldwork

From the Texas borderlands to ancient Rome to back home in Indiana, University of Indianapolis students continue to unearth history, gain valuable field experience and make a global impact. baumslanding

Students participating in the University’s archaeological field school spent the summer excavating the Baum’s Landing site near Delphi in Carroll County, Ind. The group, working under the guidance of Dr. Christopher Moore, associate professor and chair of anthropology, studied early pioneer life in Indiana.

The field school immerses students in archaeology 40+ hours a week with a focus on excavation techniques as well as teamwork, critical thinking, community outreach and project design. The initiative also connects the community with Indiana history by opening the dig to residents, including local middle school students.

“We hope to develop a better understanding of how the Baums (who lived on the site from approximately 1820 to 1850) and their contemporaries established a new community identity as Hoosiers,” Moore said.

A Carroll County native, Moore founded the Wildcat Archaeological Research Project (WARP) in 2009 to investigate archaeology in Carroll County and surrounding areas, including Baum’s Landing. Among the goals for the excavation, Moore said, is learning details about the daily life, status and wealth of the pioneer family.

For the students, the experience provides intellectual and professional growth opportunities, including the development of leadership and supervision skills on everything from paperwork to excavation.

“This year’s field crew is exceptional. Over the last eight weeks, all of them have grown considerably, both in their knowledge and skills of archaeology and in their confidence,” Moore said.

Kaylee Blum

Kaylee Blum ’19

“The experience that I have gained from this project has helped me with my personal growth and my development as an archaeologist,” said archaeology student Kaylee Blum ’19, who has participated in several student digs. “There’s so much more to archaeology than I anticipated, but my time at UIndy has definitely been worth it. The hands-on experience that I have gained just as an undergraduate has been amazing beyond words.”

UIndy students can take part in numerous volunteer archaeological lab and field experiences starting in their freshman year, and applied, hands-on training is integrated into many archeology and anthropology courses. A public field archaeology event will be held at Skiles Test park in Indianapolis Sept. 16-17 and an archaeological field school is planned for next summer on Sapelo Island, Georgia.

“Students can get exposed to the challenges of real-world situations alongside the ideal scenarios that they read about in textbooks. This means that most students have some basic understanding of and practical skills in archaeological fieldwork before they start field school,” Moore added.

 

Global impact
Beyond Borders Team
Along with that real-life experience comes the opportunity to witness the community impact. Krista Latham, associate professor of biology and anthropology, leads a student forensic team comprised of biology majors on projects including the identification of individuals who died in the Texas borderlands, as well as assisting law enforcement during local crime scene investigations.

Latham’s work has gained national attention to the humanitarian crisis happening on the U.S. southern border. (Read more about the project here.) Latham and her team work to uncover remains from unmarked grave sites and identify the bodies of those who have died while making the journey to the United States. This year, four graduate students traveled to Texas with Latham to participate in the project, marking the sixth trip.

Graduate student Leann Rizor ’18 (human biology with focus in forensic anthropology) said the fieldwork has helped her to gain an appreciation of the magnitude of the crisis.

“I learned so much regarding the intricacies of the politics surrounding the crisis, and I have used this knowledge to talk about the crisis in a very informed way and to spread awareness,” said Rizor, who earned her bachelor’s degree in anthropology from the University in 2014.

International research opportunities

Jessica Gregory (center) and Jessica Chevrolet (left) in Chieti, Italy at the University Museum (Photo: Chris Schmidt)

Jessica Gregory (center) and Jessica Chevrolet (left) in Chieti, Italy at the University Museum (Photo: Chris Schmidt)

Research opportunities for UIndy students extend to the international arena. Chris Schmidt, professor of anthropology, worked with two UIndy graduate students in Italy this summer on his study of Herculaneum, an ancient Roman city destroyed when Mt. Vesuvius erupted in the year A.D. 79. Schmidt has been conducting research for several years at the site, focusing on what inhabitants ate, their ancestry and the way they died.

Schmidt was honored earlier this year with the 2017 Indiana Archaeology Award, along with Johnson County Commissioner Brian Baird and Johnson County attorney Kathleen Hash, for leading the Middle of the Road Grave project, which involved several UIndy students – including some graduate alumni who returned to participate. The goal of the project was to record, recover and reinter the seven individuals who were buried in the median of County Road 400 South.

“It is definitely a case where one person is being acknowledged for the others,” Schmidt said of the award. “It’s an award for the process and UIndy should be proud of that high level of professionalism.”

The site’s role in local folklore and regional history generated strong media interest, creating additional pressure on the excavation team. Nancy Kerlin Barnett and six others were buried at the site, which bears a historic marker commemorating their lives. While the topic of dealing with human remains is a sensitive one, Schmidt said by the end of the project, researchers had gained the respect of local residents.

“It was the best excavation experience I’ve ever had as a professional and working with the students, the state, the county and the museum,” he said.  “People know they can count on us to do it right.”

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

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.

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

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