Thoughts on Theses: Vivian Cordon

Vivian Cordon ’21 is a double major in economics and law, jurisprudence and social thought (LJST), for which she is writing a thesis with Senior Lecturer in LJST David Delaney. Her thesis is about sanctuary cities and how Americans find identity within their cities and nation.

Q: Can you describe your thesis? 

A: I’m writing a [Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought] LJST thesis. It’s on sanctuary cities and legal imaginaries, which essentially means ‘how do people imagine law.’ [It’s about] how people imagine community and how — then thinking of sanctuary cities with these ideas — you feel about undocumented people belonging to your community. [I talk about] what does citizenship mean, what does national identity mean. 

Q: How you became interested in this topic and how did you arrive at this specific focus you’ve formed? 

A: I think I became interested in this topic after I took a class abroad on migration. I was in Spain and we looked at questions of why do people migrate, what are the factors pushing them from their home countries or pulling them to the new countries — all this migration theory. So I started becoming interested in globalization and migration. More broadly, then when I went to write the proposal for the thesis, I was thinking of how do you make this into an LJST topic. How do you approach that from the LJST world? So, I was thinking of who is legally allowed to be somewhere. How can someone, as an undocumented person, get a driver’s license? That’s a form of ID, legal recognition that you are there when you’re actually not legally allowed to be somewhere. How do you acknowledge the fact that maybe the person who works in your supermarket is undocumented, and you feel very closely connected to them versus someone from a southern state, who owns a gun who you feel completely like you’re not from the same country? I was thinking of myself as a New Yorker and that I am always identifying first as a New Yorker over an American. So in the brainstorming process, I was taking all these things and thinking about that. 

In terms of LJST, it led me to like look at the Sanctuary Movement and look at sanctuary cities and what are like legal, what is happening in those cases and how does that reflect migration and immigration issues.

Q: How have the past three months and current events surrounding some of these issues affected your research?  I feel like the election was a bit of like referendum on national identity and the debates raised so many questions of how does America see itself as a country has that kind of shift — has that made its way into your work?  

A: It hasn’t made its way into the thesis, and maybe it will since I’m still writing it, but right now I have been more focused on the legal theory behind everything, before delving into sanctuary cities or any like actual cases. So I’ve been focusing on first building the toolkit to analyze that. All the things that we’re seeing in the news — that’s all coming from this idea of what is identity, what is our community, who belongs to that community and why we feel that way. So, it’s all embedded in. When I write my thesis, that will be reflected in the current events and vice versa, but it hasn’t necessarily made its way into it. 

There are all these ideas that I, again, haven’t gotten to this part of the thesis yet, but also thinking of local or municipal citizenship is crucial. Why does the idea of a state exist? Do we even want that? Would we rather just like be governed by and belong to our city and that’s it? Obviously, that’s a really radical like way of viewing things and that’ll go under the part of my thesis about radical legal imaginaries, but it begs the question ‘okay if I don’t identify with this person on the other side of the country who has completely polar opposite beliefs to me, then like are we even part of the same nation?’

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about what the best part of the research and writing process has been so far? 

A: What’s great is that I’ve chosen this topic and like everything I’m reading. Even if it’s not making its way into my thesis, it is so interesting. I feel like I’m learning a lot and can broadly analyze the world through this lens a little more, which obviously is the whole point of school. You’re not learning to learn facts, you’re learning to like broaden your worldview, so just like knowledge-wise I feel like it’s super cool to just learn and read a lot about legal imaginaries, social imaginaries and think about ‘why do I think this about the world?’ or ‘why do I go about the world and imagine myself in the world in this way, what is the theory?’ 

Writing wise, because all of this is so interesting, I feel like writing has been coming so quickly to me, which, you know,  some classes you’re writing the paper and you’re like, ‘God, I can’t write anything, nothing is coming out of me.’  Whereas with this, my thesis advisor is very clear that I can turn in absolute trash to him, and I just need to write all the ideas down. That’s a really liberating writing process. I’m gonna write every single thing that comes to mind and we’ll fix it later, which is fun.

Q: What is your relationship with your advisor? 

A: We meet on Zoom once a week, and I’ll send him my pages, and he’ll just respond to my pages. I think we think about writing in the same way and that it’s better to come up with the framework — like what are the ideas, versus let’s read a whole bunch of stuff at once and then write it all down and make it look good. So it’s kind of like building the analytical toolkit or the theoretical toolkit that I can then use to analyze the sanctuary cities. Our meetings are really like, ‘these are the ideas that once you build this idea, you’ll be able to do this with it,’ or ‘what are the things you need to be doing now to set yourself up to actually analyze later.’ So it’s always just very go with the flow. It’s a nice conversation of ‘okay, this writing was cool; it made me think of this; and you’re gonna be able to do this later.’ So it always feels like I’m building and progressing to something which is really good, that’s helpful.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about the challenges you’ve come across in writing?

A: I guess the hardest parts happened at the beginning, where it kind of felt like I was writing but I didn’t know where I was going, what is the argument or what does the thesis layout look like chapter by chapter, section by section. So at first, it was kind of like, ‘what am I, what do I even know about this topic and what can I even write and where do I start.’  But then I think at a certain point, I had written enough thoughts that it all finally clicked, and then was able to think, ‘Oh I see where this is going. Now I see why I’m writing this.’ It just took that moment of like what is the point of all this. Then doing that was hard, and I guess just generally, it’s hard to schedule work time.  You meet once a week you but don’t really have a block of time scheduled out, so that’s just like a time management thing of what am I actually working on my thesis. It’s a lot of work to just sit down and read a book

Q: Can you explain how the thesis kind relates to work that you’re interested in pursuing down the line? How do you feel like it fits into your larger academic life trajectory? 

A: I actually think it has been very eye opening for me, and I do think that I want to work in immigration or migration or anything related to that, especially now that I’ve read so much more about it that I like.  I’m still figuring out whether I want to take the law route and do more human rights work, like asylum or legal aid. Or whether [the route is] the policy route and thinking of why people are even migrating to the U.S. in the first place. Maybe it’s a sanctuary city type thing, asking should I be deported because I am driving a car without a license? Or if I get a ticket for jaywalking, should they be allowed to call Homeland Security or whoever. But I’ve been thinking of ‘what’s the best route to attack this problem?’ Is it policy or is it law, because as we know, law isn’t just in the courts. I don’t know, but at least I know immigration is something I’m interested in, which is more than I could have said, maybe like three months ago.