Important Theoretical and Methodological Turning Points for Understanding Contribution With Undocumented Undergraduates

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Undocumented youth face a series of barriers to health and success in their lives, yet many also exhibit incredible resilience and are thriving despite these odds. A critical component of thriving during adulthood is contribution to family and community (Lerner et al., 2002). In this study, a team of (un)documented researchers conducted a multilayered exploration of contribution by examining the findings of a qualitative study of undocumented undergraduates embedded in a PAR Summer Program designed to serve undocumented students at a large public university. We present results from two layers of qualitative data: (a) transcripts from the Summer Program, which revealed important methodological turning points for our design of the embedded qualitative study; (b) two portraits of undocumented undergraduates’ visual (identity maps) and verbal (interview) narratives regarding contribution. By crafting a design that allowed undocumented youth to describe their families through visual and verbal narratives, we were able to gather thick descriptions of contribution. We describe both theoretical and methodological turning points in understanding contribution for undocumented young people as we undertook this project. Further, through the analysis of interviews and “family maps” of two undocumented undergraduate participants we explored the role of contribution to their family and community, as an asset to their development and academic success. Results revealed the reciprocal nature of contribution between family and community members, a value we refer to as collective contribution.

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