All posts by cantore

Baby Steps

It has now been just over a week since we returned to Indianapolis from our trip to South Texas. After only two nights back in Indy, some of us returned to the airport to travel to Boulder City, Nevada for the annual Mountain, Desert, and Coastal Forensic

MD&C 2017!
MD&C 2017!

Anthropology meeting, which was a great experience. The theme of this year’s meeting, in fact, was a symposium discussing the many aspects of the humanitarian crisis at the border. In addition to giving a presentation myself, there were many presentations from people involved with several different agencies. After having traveled to South Texas twice now, I consider myself fairly involved with the UIndy team’s role in this humanitarian work but it was amazing to see all the other people who are involved and how their roles differ from ours. It was also amazing to see just how many people are involved; it felt almost like a community of people, many of whom I had never previously met, who are connected by our service to this cause.

Thinking back to our trip to South Texas, I continue to feel proud of the work that we accomplished together as a team. We faced many challenges, especially in the field, but our ability to work together and use our critical thinking to problem

Team Strategy Meeting
Team Strategy Meeting

solve allowed us to overcome those challenges, and relatively easily, I dare say. I don’t think I will ever cease to be impressed by how this team worked together – everyone contributed so much, I didn’t hear a single complaint except for the

Teamwork was even necessary to get in and out of our pit
Teamwork was even necessary to get in and out of the pit

typical light-hearted groans about muscle soreness and “bucket bruises,” and everyone’s strengths complimented each other’s very well. I am proud to have worked with every member of our team and I know that we have formed a bond with each other, and with other individuals working with this crisis, that will last a lifetime.

Accomplishing our goals in South Texas is only one small step towards exhuming and identifying all of the unidentified migrants who have been buried across South Texas. Some may consider it disheartening to think about how much work still needs to be done – not only would we like to return to Brooks and Starr county, but there are likely many many other cemeteries across South Texas that need to be visited. But these small steps are necessary and represent progress, and after this most recent trip, over 10 more individuals are finally beginning the process of identification. The UIndy teamdsc_0125 is just one of many who is slowly chipping away at this problem, and I can only imagine that progress will accelerate as more and more individuals become aware of the crisis situation at the border. I know that I will try and play my part in helping to spread this awareness while I am back in Indianapolis, and hope to be able to return to South Texas in the future to continue to make those small steps to eventually identify all of those that have perished crossing the border.

Erica

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We Are More Powerful Together

So frequently, my fellow cohort and I have reflected on the many amazing aspects of participating in the work taking place in South Texas – the ability to utilize our skills in real-world situations, the opportunities to learn and grow as students and as people, and, of course, being involved in such an important humanitarian project that really makes a difference. One aspect that is not discussed as frequently, however, is the great opportunity we have to work with so many other people from Texas State University and other organizations and to observe and learn from their different perspectives and experiences. It’s impossible to mention all of the awesome people that we get to work with, but there are certainly a few who stand out.

Just a couple of hours into our first day at the cemetery in Rio Grande City, a big silver pickup truck pulled up and one of our favorite people climbed out of it – Sister Pam was here! I wasn’t sure if she was going to be able to join us this time, as she lives about 45 minutes away. But sure enough, she made the drive to be there with us almost every day, helping wherever she could, even helping us to dig and move buckets of heavy dirt in the Texas heat. I will never cease to be amazed by the dedication Sister Pam has to this cause and by her never-ending desire to help. Thanks again, Sister Pam!

Sister Pam hard at work
Sister Pam hard at work

Dr. Kate Spradley, a professor at Texas State University, is the primary leader of the humanitarian work being done in  both Brooks County and now Starr County. She helps to keep this work going and moving forward. Having now worked with her for two field seasons in South Texas, I have gotten to know Dr. Spradley as a very kind and caring person who is devoted to this cause. Oftentimes in the field, she can be hard to find, as she is constantly on the move, helping anywhere she is needed and continuing to do much of the behind-the-scenes work that helps keep this project moving forward.

Dr. Spradley taking notes
Dr. Spradley taking notes

Dr. Nick Herman was also here again during this field season. He was only there for a couple of days, but he of course brought along with him his infamous “magic stick” to take measurements. Additionally, Dr. Herman had visited the cemetery prior to our trip to take GPR readings of each of the areas. It will be interesting to see the results after Dr. Herman processes both the GPR and the “magic stick” data.

Dr. Herman and Leann using the magic stick
Dr. Herman and Leann using the magic stick

I first met Dr. Tim Goche just before he completed his doctorate at The Ohio State University. We met at FLAG, the regional forensic anthropology conference in the Midwest and bonded over our mutual love for the show Scrubs. Since then, it has been awesome to learn about his impressive research and watch him move into his new role at Texas State University, quickly becoming so involved in this humanitarian project. I always enjoy working with Tim in the field and hope that we will continue to have opportunities to work together!

Dr. Goche moving dirt with a smile on his face
Dr. Goche moving dirt with a smile on his face

All of us met Dr. JP Fancher for the first time at the beginning of the lab portion of this most recent Texas trip. He was introduced to us as a dentist who assists in the dental analysis of the migrant remains that are analyzed at Texas State. We quickly learned, however, that JP also participates in the field work and is a military medic, making it even more great to have him by our side. Even more so, JP was very kind to all of us and was always eager to offer help or educational moments whenever he could.

JP always cheerful in the field
JP always cheerful in the field

And, of course, my fellow teammates and I would never have had such a wonderful opportunity to be involved with the humanitarian work in South Texas without the hard work and dedication of Dr. Krista Latham. Thank you, Dr. Latham!

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Erica

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Feed the Fire

Throughout our time here in Texas, we have discussed lessons that we have learned, areas where we have done well, and areas where we can improve at the end of each night. During the lab analysis portion of this season, a lot of these lessons reflected on the education that we have received at the University of Indianapolis. Before our time in the lab at Texas State University, I hadn’t fully realized just how much I have learned during my graduate career. And being able to apply that learning to such an important cause honestly felt amazing.

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With this being my second time participating in this work in Texas, I have not only been able to apply my education from UIndy but also my experiences from the previous trip in January. In January, however, we were only in the field and did not do any of the analyses in the lab. Therefore, my fellow students and I really had to draw from our education and experience from casework in Indiana to problem solve. And I think we did a fine job. We knew we had a lot to accomplish in our short time in the lab at Texas State and we were determined to exceed expectations. This required a lot of critical thinking and problem solving but I believe that the education and experience that we have all received at the University of Indianapolis really helped us in this regard.

It was a great experience being able to be a little more independent in these analyses, which of course also came with more responsibility. None of us shied away from this, however. We each worked together to figure out the best way to complete each task and by the third day, we had really found our groove. I really believe that in addition to everything we have learned under the guidance of Dr. Latham and Dr. Nawrocki at the University of Indianapolis, our ability to work so well together as a team to problem solve helped us to accomplish everything that we did during this Texas season. And being able to use our skills to contribute as much as we can to a real-world crisis situation that needs all the help it can get really feeds the fire to continue to work hard and stay involved as much as possible.

Erica

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