Northeastern Illinois University

DACAmentation: Journalism by Dreamers for Dreamers

Northeastern Illinois University is one of the 2018 winners of the Challenge Fund. See all the winners.


  • Edie Rubinowitz, Associate Professor, Department of Communication, Media and Theatre, Northeastern Illinois University
  • Dr. Shayne Pepper, Chair/Associate Professor, Department of Communication, Media and Theatre, Northeastern Illinois University
  • Salvador España, Program Director, Spanish Public Media
  • Fernando Moreno, Chief Operations Officer, Spanish Public Media
  • Maria X., Student, Northeastern Illinois University
  • Monzerrath G., Student, Northeastern Illinois University
  • Catherine P., Student, Northeastern Illinois University
  • Karina Vargas Camacho, Student, Northeastern Illinois University
  • Yarixta Bustamante, Graduate, Northeastern Illinois University
  • Leslie Hurtado, Student, Northeastern Illinois University
  • Elizabeth Rodriguez, Coordinator of Learning Innovations, Northeastern Illinois University

Describe your project

DACAmentation will work with students, including Dreamers, to tell their own stories and research today’s critical issues affecting them, e.g. state lawsuits repealing DACA, giving Dreamers and their families an opportunity to tell their stories in their own words. These reporters, who have a unique perspective to illuminate current conflicts in a more humanized and nuanced way, will seek to understand local/national immigration issues through substantive reporting.

Partnering with Spanish Public Radio, DACAmentation will use a multi-pronged approach to get relevant information to this underserved population, broadcast a six-part podcast series, and engage this demographic on YouTube and Snapchat.

What is your experiment?

The experiment will air a series of podcast episodes focusing on issues concerning undocumented students, such as fear of deportation, legal rights, financial assistance, and access to higher education. As immigration and DACA are current, developing topics, reporters and hosts must be responsive to daily political changes when interviewing and reporting on the news.

Reporters will draw on the media literacy and investigative skills they honed in the classroom and utilize a deep rolodex of Chicagoland’s non-profits that work with immigrants, e.g., the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights. Despite the “shadow” nature of undocumented students, many have come out of the shadows, even at public protests.

At Northeastern, the Undocumented Resilient and Organized (URO) is very active and connected. We will work with them to build an audience and find storytellers. Luvia Moreno, director of Undocumented Student Resources at NEIU, will serve as a resource. For those undocumented on the show who are not “out,” we will offer them aliases, alter their voices when requested, and offer physical anonymous drop-boxes around campus where students may submit their written story to be voiced by others in less-precarious situations. Ultimately, we will locate a hard-to-reach audience through outreach starting at Northeastern and extending to other universities and high schools.

Audience engagement will occur through Snapchat, YouTube, and physical dropboxes for students’ anonymous stories. DACAmentation culminates with two town halls, one at NEIU and another at a public institution, e.g, the Harold Washington Library.

2019 update: We have used Facebook Live, the SPR website and to a lesser extent Snapchat and other social media. While we have been successful with Facebook, we have not tackled the YouTube piece we proposed for this project because we’ve had to focus our attention on getting strong audio rather than video. So far, all podcast episodes have been able to air on time. We continue to be able to make deadlines, although our episodes are not always as polished as we would have liked. But we are learning from our mistakes and adjusting and reworking expectations to be more realistic about what students with minimal reporting and audio backgrounds can produce.

If the experiment works, what do you think might happen?

If the information dissemination channels are effective, undocumented students will have a more robust network of accurate information that may lead to better decisions about applying to and attending college. It will also help bring together community members who might otherwise not be connected and provide informational resources. In addition, the stories will connect to a larger Chicago audience by showing the faces and amplifying the voices of individuals who are not generally covered in-depth by mainstream media outlets in the Chicago area.

How is this project unique and innovative?

Our project will tackle the timely and important topic of immigration, but unlike other coverage, the students, many undocumented (also referred to as “DACAmented”) will be the reporters, researchers, and storytellers. They will also use social media appropriate to their demographic (e.g., Snapchat) to disseminate information. The town halls will be broadcast live and allow for both immediacy in interacting with an in-house and online audience. These public town hall events will allow us to stay on top of the twists and turns in U.S. immigration policy. DACAmentation participants, while they are clearly coming with a certain perspective as many will be Dreamers, will still adhere to high journalistic standards and examine immigration issues from a variety of perspectives. For example, it will be important that they understand and convey the reasons why many want to repeal DACA. Talking with DACA opponents will be essential.

2019 update: Unlike universities and colleges with more traditional student bodies, NEIU has many students who live the stories that journalists often report on. Rather than having to hunt for an undocumented student who identifies as gay (Episode #4) or one who visits Mexico through the “advanced parole” system for Dreamers (Episode #5), our students can simply turn to their neighbors, friends or classmates as potential sources. Their access to people at the heart of the issues is remarkable.

Click the following links to listen to some of the project’s podcast episodes:

How might this experiment change teaching at your school or media practices in your partner’s newsroom?

Over the years we have considered developing classes and a curriculum focusing on bilingual journalism, but with our limited resources (only one tenure/tenure-track journalism professor), this has not been easy to coordinate. The partnership with Spanish Public Radio will allow us to pursue these opportunities. We are also developing a curriculum in Solutions Journalism and working closely with the Solutions Journalism network. Professor Rubinowitz will be participating in the Solutions Journalism Educators Academy at the University of Oregon, a pioneer in Solutions Journalism education.