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Researcher of the Month

March 2014

Jean-Claude Velasquez  
Philosophy, Political Science majors; EOP, Class of '14

Research Mentors: Dr. Eduardo Mendieta,  Philosophy; Robert Alessi, Esq.,  Political Science 


Jean-Claude VelasquezJean-Claude Velasquez  is a senior, double majoring in Philosophy and Political Science in the College of Arts & Sciences; and a participant in the Educational Opportunity Program - Advancement on Individual Merit (EOP/AIM) at SB. He is currently completing the honors program requirements for  both major disciplines, and in April will be presenting his work at the upcoming URECA undergraduate research symposium. For both thesis projects, Jean-Claude concentrated on issues he is deeply passionate about exploring:  "For me, immigration, political science, this defines me who I am as a student. Having the opportunity for a whole year doing research on something I’m passionate about– I’m not going to ever have this opportunity again."

His Philosophy honors research, supervised by Professor Eduardo Mendieta, who has mentored him since he took Philosophy 105: Politics and Society in Fall 10 of freshman year, investigates ethical dilemmas of immigration policies in the US – and explores the history of xenophobia, racism, and ethnic tensions faced by immigrants in the US. His honors thesis focuses particularly on the challenges faced by the most recent wave of immigrants (Latinos and Asians) and examines the paradox of developing solutions for a broken immigration system while exercising our sovereign power of exclusion; revisits the traditional citizenship concepts of  jus sanguinis and jus solis in light of mass globalization; and discusses Kant’s concept of hospitality and cosmopolitanism in the context of a third alternative model of citizenship. Jean-Claude’s honors project in Political Science is supervised by Robert Alessi Esq.,Practicing Attorney, and investigates Hispanic political behavior and identity— examining the strategies made by Democrats and Republicans in reaching out to Hispanics in both primary and local elections. 

Jean-Claude has served as a TA for  Politics and Society, and  Philosophy of Law (PHI 105, PHI 375). Last summer, he was one of ten winners of a SUNY/CUNY essay competition sponsored by The Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force of the New York State Legislature for his essay on raising the minimum wage. He has published “Domestic Violence, Gender Justice and the Importance of Civic and Moral Education” in  Libertas: the Undergraduate  Journal of Political Science at Stony Brook University (Fall 2013). Recently, Jean-Claude was notified that his essay,  “The Invisible and Voiceless: The Plight of the Undocumented Immigrant in America”was one of 13 chosen nationwide as a finalist entry for the 2014 Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics Essay Contest. 

Jean-Claude has taken the initiative to participate in several transformative summer programs. In Summer 2013, he was a Public Health Scholar at Columbia University’s School of Public Health, and did a summer research project on “Deceit and Persuasion: Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and Advertising” which focused on marketing techniques used in fast-food advertising by major corporations. Jean-Claude also interned with the NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene last summer to promote Take Care New York — a 2016 strategic health agenda to help New Yorkers live longer and healthier lives. In summer 2012, Jean-Claude was a Pre-Law Undergraduate Scholar at IIT Chicago-Kent Law School where he studied Criminal Law, Torts, Legal Writing, Trial Advocacy and Civil Procedure.

Jean-Claude has been involved as a tutor with the EOP program on campus. He also serves as President of the Delta Chapter of Phi Sigma Tau Honor Society, a philosophy honor society which was inactive for a decade and which he worked to reestablish on campus. Jean-Claude has also given his time as an ESL teaching Assistant at Columbia University Community Impact (serving the Harlem and Washington Heights community), and was part of the Volunteer Corp at City University of New York Citizenship Now to assist immigration attorneys in helping immigrants complete forms regarding the naturalization process. Jean-Claude plans to pursue a master’s in Health Policy and Management at Columbia University next year, with a concentration in Healthcare Management and Law; and then to pursue a Juris Doctorate. 

Jean-Claude Velasquez is one of 15 Stony Brook University recipients of the Chancellor's Award for Student Excellence, a SUNY award which will be formally awarded on April 2 and recognizes graduating seniors who have integrated academic excellence with other aspects of their lives, which may include leadership, campus involvement, community service, arts, athletics, and/or career achievement. Jean-Claude’s hobbies include: fishing, kayaking, drawing, and photography. Below are excerpts of his interview with Karen Kernan, URECA Director.

Interview excerpts

Karen. Tell me about your  honors thesis project in Philosophy.
Jean-Claude. I'm working on the political and philosophical issues of citizenship and immigration, under the direction of Professor Mendieta. A component of my project is to illustrate the history of xenophobia and nativism that have coincided with different waves of immigrants in the US; a history that goes back to colonial times. I examine the dilemma we face as a nation of developing sensible immigration policies that are in harmony with our power to exclude. At the moment, our immigration system is broken . . . I look at this issue from both an ethical perspective and a structural justice perspective as well. 
As of 2013, we have an undocumented population of roughly the population size of Ohio. What should we do with them? Deport them or grant them amnesty? I argue that we have to develop more just immigration policies for the future: enforce border security to halt the flow of the undocumented; create a pathway to legal status for the undocumented, especially for the children who were brought here without their consent and fix our visa system. These are just a few of the major concepts my thesis explores. Furthermore, I will also discuss the issues immigration faces in light in the era of mass globalization.

How did you first get involved with this project?
I’ve taken several classes with Professor Mendieta where we’ve visited different chapters of racism in American history. It’s a huge component of American history that’s ignored. We have this idea of the big melting pot and of the American Dream – but there is a darker side to our history. My experience as an immigrant too was part of it. My mother immigrated to the United States in the 90s. So I was exposed to her being discriminated against because she was an immigrant. My interests are rooted from there. 

Do you focus on a particular time period?
I start with a backdrop going back to colonial times. If you look at the legislation that was passed prohibiting Jews, Catholics, non-Protestants, etc. from becoming citizens, or preventing certain groups (the Irish, the Poles) from having full political membership, you see that xenophobia is not a new phenomenon to the American experience. Paradoxically, the Pilgrims sought freedom from religious persecution yet incorporated dozens of laws restricting political membership from those who were different from them. But the main focus of my project is on the latest wave of immigrants starting in the 1950s – on Latinos and Asians– and the challenges posed by the latest group of immigrants.

How did you first meet your mentor?
My first class, Political Philosophy 105, was in the Union in Room 103. Professor Mendieta is a great lecturer. From the start, he saw I was interested in philosophy and that we shared a lot of interests. He exposed me to the beauties of political philosophy and philosophical thinking. I visited his office hours and we started talking about immigration, race theory, Plato's Republic. He is welcoming to all students and I appreciate that. A year later, I asked if I could TA his Philosophy 105 class. I also TA’d Philosophy of Law this past semester. And then this last year, I started working on my honors thesis project with him. 

Tell me about your second project- in Political Science.
The core of the Political Science project is the study of Hispanic political behavior. Politicians and scholars have recognized the importance of Hispanics in voting, especially recently. But I think there’s only a cursory understanding of Hispanic political behavior identity. Many don’t understand the internal diversity of Hispanics –a label that was invented in the 70s during the Nixon administration. We are white, black, mestizos, indigenous, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, etc. but we get lumped with some artificial pan-ethnic label, “Hispanic.”   There are huge discrepancies within the Hispanic populations and it’s not the unified body that it is assumed to be and a lot of the confusion in studying this population surfaces from this common misconception. Therefore, we are not a cohesive voting-bloc. A significant portion of my paper is studying the failures of the Republican party in reaching out to Hispanics, especially when it comes to immigration issues. 

My project is done under the direction of Professor Alessi. Like Professor Mendieta, he is another great mentor. He always invited us to come to office hours, and stayed after class to talk with us about politics, law, etc. He shares real-life experiences from his years of practicing law, which is extremely for the pre-law students in the class. It definitely helped me.  

My two projects definitely complement each other well. The philosophy thesis deals with more theoretical and normative ideas. The political science thesis involves interpretation of both qualitative and quantitative data . But I'm glad I'm doing both projects. 

That's a lot - taking on two senior thesis projects. How do you manage it?
I budget my time very well. I wake up early to read for my thesis. I did take a 24 credit load last semester and that, I admit, was a little crazy. This semester I’m taking 3 classes, and I’m focusing on reading and writing for my thesis projects. 
Has doing research enhanced your education at SB?
One huge benefit is learning how to budget my time. I know that will help a lot when I get to grad school and law school. Doing a senior project forces you to be disciplined, to set your own deadlines. ...The honors thesis also gives you the opportunity to read and read and read and inform yourself about something that you’re passionate about. For me, immigration, political science, this defines me who I am as a student. Having the opportunity for a whole year doing research on something I’m passionate about– I’m not going to ever have this opportunity again.

I took it very seriously when I came to Stony Brook. I sat down and had a conversation with myself about the time and money I was about to invest in the next four years. I also thought that nowhere in my life am I going to have 4 years to contemplate big ideas, like what’s the meaning of justice? Or examining the deep philosophical foundations of the US Constitution. You can’t devote yourself 100 percent to exploring these ideas later in life because you may have different commitments when you’re older. Coming here as a student I experienced a completely different environment from what I had been exposed to earlier in high school. Every professor is passionate about his work and I was eager to learn from each of my professors. That connected with me.

Any advice for other students ?
Start early! If you work hard, study and do what you have to do, and prioritize for school then friends/social life, you can get far. You just have to be disciplined and apply yourself. 

Do you feel that your undergraduate education - especially your research / internship experiences - have prepared you well for future grad studies? 
Definitely. I like learning all kinds of things. I was exposed to the legal discipline in one summer program; and last year to the public health field. And I've learned so much from my research projects. It helps you to get different perspectives, and to get everything you can out of your 4 year education.

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