Luther College student-faculty duo receives Collaborative Research Award

June 11, 2021

Nancy Gates Madsen and Mackenzie Zenk '21 received the award for their research surrounding migration rhetoric

Luther College Professor of Spanish Nancy Gates Madsen and Mackenzie Zenk '21 have been awarded the Collaborative Research Award from the North Central Council of Latin Americanists Conference. Their research paper titled "Destabilizing the Binary Rhetoric of Migration in Yuri Herrera's 'Señales que precederán al fin del mundo' (Signs Preceding the End of the World)," was unanimously selected for this award during the recent NCCLA Conference. 

"The topic of migration is very timely," said Gates Madsen. "There are lots of stories in the news about the U.S.-Mexico border. I became interested in how fictional tales of South-North migration support or question the rhetoric of migration typically seen in the news. Media portrayals often employ simplistic binaries to describe border-crossers: legal versus illegal, us versus them. Herrera's novel provides a more nuanced picture of migration that is often lacking in mainstream representations. I wanted to dig deeper, and Mackenzie was the perfect person to assist my research." 

This project is the result of year-long collaboration between Gates Madesen and Zenk. They presented their findings at the NCCLA Conference held remotely in April. The Collaborative Research Award is awarded based on the project's contribution to new knowledge of Latin America, thoroughness and appropriateness of research, and the presentation of research. 

"We were delighted our paper was selected to receive the Collaborative Research Award, given to a project that exemplifies collaboration between faculty and student," said Gates Madsen. "It's been an absolute delight to work with Mackenzie and see her grow and develop as a student and researcher. It was a wonderful way to celebrate the end of a multi-year collaboration between the two of us."

Zenk, a recent Luther graduate but student at the time of research, assisted Gates Madsen in the process of researching portrayals of migrants and language surrounding migration. 

"I've really been able to improve my research skills while working with Professor Gates Madsen," said Zenk. "For most of the project, I would track down and analyze articles relating to the portrayal of immigrants and the immigrant journey in United States popular media."

The Executive Committee of the NCCLA said the reviewers appreciated the argument "that the dualistic rhetoric of migration is insufficient to express the complicated reality of border crossers and the migrant journey, as well as the way the paper was enriched by nuanced contextual and social science perspectives."

Through the project, Zenk, an English major and Spanish minor, had the opportunity to deepen her research and analytical skills and apply her gained knowledge in both English and Spanish. 

"I have learned that I thrive on variety and I love getting to learn new things and engage with all sorts of subject matters, especially in areas that I might not have been able to encounter previously," said Zenk. 

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