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A multi-college research team examines “Sanctuary Cities” to better understand and advance community resilience

Resilience is the theme uniting 11 cross-college research projects funded by the Global Resilience Institute (GRI) at Northeastern University. For one of the teams, this brings together eight researchers from six different academic departments and three colleges to examine: “Safe Places and Politics of Fear: An Interdisciplinary Investigation of ‘Sanctuary Cities’.”

City Skyline (Pexels)The project seeks to identify how communities’ efforts to address questions regarding the role and place of sanctuary affects their resilience. The team’s proposal asks: “In what ways do sanctuary cities impact perceptions and experiences of safety and inclusion not only for residents who might avail themselves of sanctuary, but for other residents as well, particularly members of marginalized social groups?”

The project team includes Berna Turam, Professor of Sociology and Incoming Director of International Affairs; Martha Davis, Professor of Law and Faculty Director NULaw Lab; Alisa Lincoln, Professor of Health Sciences and Sociology; Carlos Cuevas, Co-Director, Violence and Justice Research Laboratory; Serena Parekh, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Politics, Philosophy, and Economics Program; Amy Farrell, Associate Director and Associate Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice; Betul Eksi, Post-doctoral Research Associate from the Humanities Center; and Blair Childs-Biscoe, a Northeastern graduate student.

“We all come from different disciplines and what motivates us may vary, but we share the same interest in the main research question,” Turam says.

Together, those different disciplines bring a wealth of knowledge in varied backgrounds that are important to understanding resilience: the role of police in communities; local governance issues; how cities can promote both physical and mental health, and human rights. Specifically, they draw on their varied academic disciplines to more insightfully explore resilience as an internal mechanism in psychology; resilience as an element of democracy, and resilience in local communities.

For this project, the team will initially focus on Boston and four aspects of sanctuary cities:

  1. Their philosophical grounding;
  2. Their intersecting legal frameworks, including infrastructure, immigrant status and law enforcement;
  3. Their impacts on health and well-being of city residents;
  4. Their spatial dimensions.

The interdisciplinary group will conduct site visits and interviews and plan to travel to at least two other sanctuary cities in the U.S. in order to do a comparative analysis with their Boston findings.

Ultimately, the team’s definitions of success in terms of project outcomes are as widely varied as their approaches to resilience: to affect policy regarding sanctuary cities; understand implications of local and federal government relationships; identify how sanctuary communities manifest resilience and how they can strengthen it; and build public awareness regarding resilience implications of sanctuary cities.

“A lot of what we see now is driven by fear tactics and stereotypes,” says Cuevas. “And facts and information which contradict a lot of these things being said are, in my opinion, the best antidote.”


About the GRI:
The Global Resilience Institute ( is leading a university-wide interdisciplinary effort to advance resilience-related initiatives that contribute to the security, sustainability, health and well-being of societies. Our objective is to help advance preparedness at multiple levels to effectively respond to slowly emerging disruptions and sudden disasters, both human-made and naturally-occurring. To learn more about the seed-funding program, click here.

Media Contact:
Christine Boynton
Communications & Media Manager