Victoria Moreno, AM ’17

Victoria MorenoWhile obtaining her first master's degree studying the history of immigration from Mexico to the U.S. in her mother's home state of Guanajuato, Mexico, Victoria Moreno, AM '17, conducted fieldwork within a migrant-sending community. Observing this community exposed Victoria to how government policies affect the social networks and economic mobility of migrants. Later on, working with Latinx families through Chicago-based non-profits and as an immigration paralegal for cases in removal proceedings, she was struck by the complexity of the legal system and the traumatic effects of uncertainty on families. She became interested in studying policy development and felt that the Master’s Program with a social administration concentration at the School of Social Service Administration (SSA) was the best fit to provide a stronger grounding in research and professionalism.

As the first in her family to attend university, being an SSA student has been a significant experience for Victoria. Originally from the Southeast side of Chicago, Victoria’s experience is deeply tied to the segregation of the city, the lack of resources afforded equitably to residents, and a first-hand understanding of how deindustrialization can impact a previously bustling migrant community.

Victoria’s first field placement was at the nonprofit Association House of Chicago, in a program that collaborated with a Logan Square elementary school. She provided social-emotional support to students with behavioral and academic needs. The daughter of a former CPS teacher, Victoria felt a personal connection to the school setting. She valued engaging with teachers as well as families who were impacted by the immigration system. Victoria witnessed social service referral limitations due to funding challenges stemming from the state budget crisis. She also witnessed how language barriers prevented parents from fully accessing services and institutions, a topic she would study at her second placement at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Victoria has assisted the Illinois State Advisory Committee in studying civil rights and voting issues. She organized a public hearing with panelists that included legal and policy experts, researchers, community advocates, and elected officials who discussed topics such as automatic voter registration and campaign finance reform as well as barriers to voting for populations including the incarcerated, language minorities, and the disabled. She is drafting a report from this hearing, including potential solutions and recommendations, which will be published by the agency. She hopes the report can be used to avoid further disenfranchisement of regularly overlooked communities and strengthen their voice and vote in future elections.

This field experience was enriched by her selection into UChicago’s Human Rights Internship in the summer before her second year at Cook County Commissioner Jesus Garcia’s office. “I wanted to work on immigration issues and gain experience in local government,” she said. There, she was given the opportunity to design and conduct a research project on the needs of Limited English Proficient and undocumented defendants in the criminal courts. She conducted observations in various county courthouses, investigating how services were or weren’t delivered in the court room, and interviewed public defenders, psychologists, language access professionals, and undocumented defendants who were impacted by ineffective counsel. “This is an especially important issue in today’s political climate given the increased criminalization of immigrants on behalf of the government,” she said.

Victoria appreciates the fluidity between her academic studies and her field experiences. “Through my coursework, SSA led me to learn about more gaps in systems that I wasn’t aware of previously. My classes taught me how to be more strategic in describing issues and to support my opinions with evidence,” Victoria said. She especially admired Assistant Professor Yanilda González. “She was accessible and took what we learned in class to the next level,” Victoria explained, referring to how Professor González encouraged students to use their course findings on approaching police reform in the real world by submitting recommendations to elected officials. “She was so supportive of students. She would sit down with me and talk about my future goals. Having such a brilliant Latina professor who cares so deeply about her work and is so humble and supportive is a motivating experience.”

Looking back on her time at SSA, one of the most valuable outcomes that Victoria will take away is her improved confidence given that UChicago was always close to home but not easily accessible to students from South Side neighborhoods. “SSA challenged me to be in uncomfortable environments,” she said. “For me, this meant governmental settings that I had no experience in. I had to be in the moment and give it a try. I’ve showed myself that I can be successful in situations that previously seemed far off.”

After SSA, Victoria hopes to continue work that supports neighborhood progress, immigrant communities, and civic engagement in either a nonprofit or government setting.