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Migrahack Event Reimagines Immigration Through Storytelling

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University of Denver

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Immigration has been a pressing and urgent story this summer. With unaccompanied children being detained in immigration detention centers, and questions regarding whether those in holding facilities have the right to a flu shot, immigration and “crisis” have been trending as search terms and as discussion topics for months.

In response, the University of Denver, in partnership with Colorado Media Project and several local groups, has organized an event to enhance understandings of immigration in Colorado.

“Immigration and migration are major issues of our day,” explains Lynn Schofield Clark, professor and chair of the Media, Film and Journalism Studies Department and director of DU’s Estlow International Center for Media, Film and Journalism Studies. “These issues affect all of us in Colorado and beyond. This event is designed to bring together people who are most affected by these issues with those who have access to storytelling platforms and distribution systems.”

A self-described “unconference,” the Migrahack is a collaborative, two-day event bringing together community members, journalists, developers, data scientists and students to review data and create stories about the impacts of immigration in Colorado. At the event, participants will divide into teams and decide on stories they’d like to investigate together, drawing on the different skills they bring. This could include anything from using data to create podcasts, video and data visualizations to creating music and live performances.

“I joined the Migrahack team because I feel this conference gives students and community members a chance to write the narratives we feel best represent the issue of immigration in our state. It gives us ownership over the immigration narrative that shapes the community that I, and many others, belong to,” says Isaac Vargas, a DU student who is serving as student coordinator for the Migrahack. “It’s also a great opportunity to learn and network alongside professionals that are in the field every day in our state.”  

As Lisa Martinez, professor of sociology and interim director of the DU Latino Center who is a co-organizer of the event with Clark, notes: “The Migrahack provides space for those who have lived experiences with immigration to share those stories more broadly.”

The event has received support from across campus, as it connects students directly with community members through project-based, experiential learning. This makes it an ideal initiative for the Madden Center for Innovation in the Liberal Arts, as well as DU Grand Challenges (DUCG).

DUCG Program Manager Katie Kleinhesselink explains: “DUCG operates from the position that our most complex public problems are best solved through community-engaged collaboration.” Kleinhesselink continues, “In bringing together media professionals, community members, faculty and staff to work together to engage with data and tell stories of immigration issues, the Migrahack honors community, university and professional expertise equally. It’s an intriguing and innovative model that encourages all of us to think creatively about how we work together for the public good.”

The first 100 DU students who register and participate as part of a team that completes and shares a multimedia story are eligible to receive $100 at the Migrahack closing event on Saturday afternoon.

Some students from the University of Colorado at Denver will also receive support from their university for their involvement in the event, and students from Colorado State University and from the University of Colorado at Boulder are planning on being involved, as well.

“[The] Migrahack will provide an opportunity for journalists to draw on expertise and know-how from other people in the community to develop quality stories on immigration,” says Nancy Watzman, director of the Colorado Media Project. “Whether it’s data wranglers, developers or community members, reporters can draw on resources often not available in newsrooms with limited budgets.”

Journalists can deepen their own storytelling approaches by collaborating with the communities they serve, Watzman notes. Most importantly, immigrants themselves are provided opportunities to guide the telling of stories about their own communities.

The Migrahack will take place on September 27 and 28, 2019. After the events, professional reporters and others who have produced stories will release those stories to the public.

To learn more about the Migrahack, to view a full schedule of events, and to register, see the Colorado Migrahack website.