Community-Based Research Approaches

Our research draws from the methodology and philosophical underpinnings of community-based research as described by Lcavy (2017), which is rooted in a social justice and action-oriented transformative paradigm. Our research is ultimately concerned with the question of how to achieve justice for immigrants. Toward this end, we begin with the notion that exposure to and participation in the work of ICDI could inspire people of faith and goodwill to deepen their commitment to immigrant justice. Over time, we want to engage many stakeholders including students, staff, and volunteers of ICDI, as well as directly impacted people. These categories are not mutually exclusive. The first phase of our research—described

Faith in Action and Community Engagement 149 here—involved DePaul students. A second phase currently underway involves ICDI staff and volunteers. A third phase may include those directly impacted by immigration detention. The research question weaving through these phases is one of how a person’s faith intersects with the issue of immigration and how coming close to or directly experiencing the challenges of migration informs one’s faith journey.


The participants in our larger research project include three different groups: ICDI staff, ICDI volunteers, and DePaul students. For the purposes of this chapter, we will only be discussing the data collected from students who took the course in 2016.

In the Fall of 2016, 27 undergraduate students (11 male, 16 female) were enrolled in Religion 113: “The Latino/a Religious Experience in the U.S.” (which is now called “Latinx Religious Experience”). Of the students enrolled in the course this semester, 21 students (78%) consented to share their data anonymously for this project.

Data Collection Process

This study utilized qualitative methods to explore how the immersion learning activities shaped students’ perspectives about being in solidarity with those who have been detained for immigration reasons. We wanted to gain a better understanding of how the students connected the immersion experiences with the mission and civic learning outcomes of the course. Our primary data source was student reflections. Having completed the three immersion experiences, students responded to a writing prompt, and students were invited, but not required, to share their reflections anonymously for the purposes of this study. For those who chose to participate in the study, their responses were anonymized and used in the data analysis. The writing prompt was the following:

In this class, you participated in three different immersion experiences: the ICDI Prayer Vigil, the Días de los Muertos exhibit in Pilsen, and the ICDI Courtwatch program. In roughly a page (~300 words), reflect on what was most significant for you in two of these experiences. (After briefly describing each experience, consider questions like: What was most valuable to your learning? How did the experience open up new insights or questions for you? What take home idea(s) from these experiences arc most likely to stick with you over the next 15 years?

As indicated, the open-ended nature of the prompt allowed students to select two of the three immersion experiences. The prompt was used to gain insight into how students had internalized these experiences.

Data Analysis Process

Three people—Chris, Melanie, and an undergraduate assistant—analyzed student data. Overall, we used a combination of deductive and inductive approaches to analyze the data (Miles, Huberman, & Saldana, 2014). Our initial deductive approach drew on grounded theory as described by Strauss and Corbin (1998). Based on this method, we used open coding to categorize individual written student responses. Open coding consists of identifying concepts, phrases, key words, and quotations. Subsequently, we met and shared our notes to compare and contrast open codes and achieve inter-coder agreement. We then did another phase of coding using the CLEA model as a heuristic tool and generated the thematic findings which we describe in this chapter.

Limitations of Study

Like any study, this one has certain limitations, two of which are worthy of mention here. First, we used a single source for data collection in this initial study. Additional methods of collecting data such as interviews and instructor observations are warranted and would make our findings more robust. Second, due to the anonymity of our data, we were unable to follow up on responses. Again, additional sets of data would have helped compensate for this shortcoming.

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