Visiting Student Scholar Reflects on a Semester in the Borderlands
Andréanne Bissonnette, a PhD student in the Political Science program at the University of Quebec in Montreal, completed a visiting student scholar assignment during the fall 2019 semester in the College of Health Sciences.
Bisonnette first came to El Paso in 2017 to complete research for her master’s degree, and decided to return two years later due to a strong interest in learning from a community that she calls “rich, welcoming and strong.” Bisonnette approached Dr. Eva Moya, associate professor of Social Work, to construct the visiting scholar assignments and to help her gain practical insight that will help her shape her own dissertation. Bisonnete’s study looks at how policies – both federal and the state level – have an impact on Latina women’s access to reproductive health services.
While in El Paso, Bisonnette audited Moya’s class on macro social work, which is held at the El Paso Opportunity Center for the Homeless. Bisonnette also assisted Moya with a research project on intersectionality and women’s homelessness in El Paso, an experience that she says will help her as she constructs her own research plan for her dissertation. Bisonnette shared additional reflections on her experience at UTEP in a question and answer session, below:
What did you learn about women and homelessness in El Paso during the time you worked with Dr. Moya on the intersectionality project? Do you feel any of that knowledge might influence the direction of your own research, now or in the future?
Prior to working with Dr. Moya on women and homelessness in El Paso, I had never worked on a subject that included this specific population. Therefore, I had everything to learn. I contributed to the project both through my experience with analysis and through my theoretical knowledge of intersectionality.
While I knew that women's experience of homelessness would most likely be different from that of men, I had never had the opportunity to hear it from actual individuals before. I've read about it, both in academic papers and newspaper articles, but having someone tell you about it makes it different and real. While my research does not focus solely on homeless women, it is not impossible that some women that I interview will be home free or have an experience of homelessness. This project allowed me to better understand this reality, and will impact how I frame my questions for my interviews.
Prior to this experience, had you ever engaged in research projects outside of your field? What was the most challenging aspect of doing this? What was the most rewarding?
My background is in interdisciplinary studies, so engaging in research outside of my field of study is something that I have done before. I often work in geopolitics, which integrates geography to political science, but I am also involved in a research project where half of the team is in film studies. However, it was the first time that I was engaged in research in social work. It was challenging to step outside of my comfort zone and the steps and frames of research that I am used to, but it was also very rewarding because it allowed me to be a part of a research team whose focus is to produce knowledge that will contribute to better the lives of people.
What was the most surprising thing you learned about El Paso during your time here?
In a time of political polarization that seems to drive people further apart and limit the opportunities of conversation, I found El Paso to somewhat be sheltered from that. People are coming together to face challenges and it is not uncommon to find people from various political backgrounds in the same coffee shop or brewery, and sometimes even engaging in a discussion. I found it surprising, yet very interesting.
How has your time in El Paso influenced you on a personal level?
Having the opportunity as a junior scholar to visit another university for a semester- or more – is truly an experience of growth, both as an academic and a person. I believe universities should thrive for international movement of students and researchers. Beyond a movement of people, (this opportunity) is a movement of ideas, points of view and experiences that together may bring about valuable changes and growth for both the student partaking in the exchange and students at the receiving university.
Living in El Paso for four months has inspired me, motivated me and confirmed that I am unable to do research that isn’t meaningful. I will leave El Paso knowing that I am stronger than I thought and having faced my fears head-on, but I will also leave with a renewed desire to be actively involved, to be a part of not only my community, but the international community of human beings. I may be leaving El Paso physically, but a part of my heart will stay here, and I am bringing a part of El Paso home with me.
What would you tell someone who is interested in coming to El Paso for a visiting research assignment?
El Paso is more than a place; it is a town that is defined by its location, its people and its strength. When doing research in El Paso, don't just stay on campus – go beyond; let people inspire you and teach you. Come to listen and learn, to have discussions rather than to come and take. El Paso is a rich community that has a lot to give, but that also gains from everyone - longtime residents and people passing through alike. Let El Paso teach you about strength, resilience and humanity, and think of how your research can contribute to life in this community. UTEP is a great learning environment with dedicated individuals – don’t hesitate to reach out and meet with faculty, staff and students.