University of Southern California
USC Dornsife: College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

ERI Research Assistants and Students

Listed in alphabetical order by last name

JayLoni Fisher

JayLoni is an undergraduate intern at ERI, deeply excited to contribute tenacity and creativity to ERI projects, while further developing his capacity to engage complex societal issues, meaningfully, compassionately, and effectively. Currently, he is a sophomore enrolled at the University of Southern California in the process of crafting an individualized study that engages his combined interests in arts and advocacy.

At a young age, JayLoni developed a passion for the arts that was cultivated and nurtured through community arts programs throughout South LA and Inglewood. Upon transitioning to high school, his awareness of the pervasive biases and inequities existent in education extensively expanded through his own experiences as the sole Black, male-identifying, student in his class of roughly sixty-three students. Enabled by an eagerness to improve his school’s culture and its capacity to support students made vulnerable by systemic and interpersonal racism, disparate socio-economic conditions, and deficient educational resources, JayLoni was able to establish a sense of belonging and purpose as an advocate, not only for himself but also for other students at his school and throughout the South LA community, at-large.

Last year, JayLoni wrote an ode to his community, art, and advocacy that was featured in the Emmy award-winning arts and culture series, “Artbound”. Check it out here:

Austin Mendoza

Austin Mendoza (he/him/his) is a Master of Public Policy student at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, concentrating in environmental and social policy. His research interests include environmental and climate justice, immigration, and racial inequity in California, with a particular focus on Los Angeles. In particular, he is passionate about creating research and communications in partnership with local communities in order to bring lived experiences and accessible storytelling into the realm of academia. Austin is originally from San Diego, and received a B.S. in Psychobiology from UCLA. Before joining ERI, Austin developed his interests through a variety of policy-related internships. At a local think tank in San Diego, he worked as a Policy Analyst Intern and conducted policy research on local and statewide ballot initiatives. While interning at the federal level with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the State Department, Austin focused on research and programmatic analysis for climate adaptation and climate justice work being done in local communities in Namibia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Senegal. Ultimately, Austin plans to work on fighting inequalities in Los Angeles through a community-based research and communications lens. He hopes to use his time at ERI to continue gaining research skills and working on a local level to pursue that goal, and to expand his horizons on the amazing work being done by communities and organizations throughout the region!

Shawntae Mitchum

Shawntae Mitchum (she/her/hers) is a Ph.D student in Sociology at the University of Southern California (USC). She received both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Sociology from California State University San Marcos. Her research interests include anti-Blackness in higher education, the role of student activism on college campuses, state violence by way of law enforcement agents and crime/punishment. Her current work seeks to examine how the racial uprisings of Summer 2020 and the heightened visibility of anti-Black racism in higher education transformed the work of Black educators involved in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts on their campuses.

Prior to attending USC, Shawntae worked as an adjunct faculty member in a community college where she co-created the first campus-based Black Community Ally Training designed to address anti-Black and systemic racism on campus. In the process of training over 200 college faculty, staff and administrators she has collected various forms of qualitative and quantitative data for use in a larger project on the role of allyship in dismantling anti-Black racism in higher education.

As a mother of two, Shawntae lives every day hopeful that the work she does is contributing to making the world a better place for her children to live. She enjoys playing and spending time with her children, riding bikes on the beach, and binge watching Netflix shows in her (very minimal) free time.

Fernando Moreno

Fernando Moreno Jr. is a PhD. student in Sociology at USC. He received his Bachelor of Arts from Harvard University, where he also concentrated in Sociology. Fernando’s research interests are in migration, bureaucracy, and the criminal justice system. His current work uses mixed-methods to critically examine the experiences of non-citizens who become justice involved in the county of Los Angeles.

Fernando is the son of Mexican immigrant parents from Manuel Villalongin, Michoacán. He was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley, but grew up playing sports all over the city. This upbringing sparked his interests in studying skateboarding, race, and neighborhood inequality as an undergraduate for his senior thesis at Harvard. There, he also worked as a research assistant studying reproductive justice and incarceration in El Salvador with Professor Jocelyn Viterna.

Prior to joining USC, Fernando worked for several immigrant advocacy organizations in the country. He worked as a paralegal in Boston, MA representing non-citizens in criminal and immigration court. He also worked for the Los Angeles Immigration Center for Women and Children (ICWC), where he worked with immigrant victims of crime who were seeking immigration relief under VAWA or through the U-visa.

In his free time, Fernando enjoys martial-arts, hiking, and spending time with his family. He is also a huge foodie with an insatiable appetite for ice-cream, ceviche, and micheladas.

Margarita Obregon

Margarita Obregon (she/her/hers) is a rising senior at USC, finishing her BA in Sociology for the upcoming academic year with a minor in Cultural Anthropology. During her time as an undergraduate, she has participated in both qualitative and quantitative sociological research projects alongside mentors at USC, and is now starting her senior thesis for the Sociology Honors Program. For this thesis, she plans to study immigrants’ perceptions of social mobility attainment. At USC, she also participates as a camp counselor and youth mentor with USC’s largest student-run non-profit organization, Troy Camp, where she has recently taken on the role of Grants Director for the upcoming school year.

She has also conducted her own independent research through the REU program at the Population Research Center in UT Austin, which she presented as a poster in the 2022 Population Association of America. Here, she studied how immigrant families engage in financial support, looking at monetary transfers between parents and their children as they transition into adulthood. Through these research experiences, she’s become passionate about using mixed-methods research to better understand socioeconomic inequality, specifically the topic of immigrant economic integration.

Born in Santiago, Chile, Margarita migrated to the United States with her family at a young age before temporarily going back to Santiago, and most recently moving to California to study sociology at USC. She enjoys spending time playing guitar, hiking, and exploring cities with friends or family.

Irene Franco Rubio

Irene Franco Rubio is a social justice activist, writer, and community organizer from Phoenix, AZ. Rooted in community and devoted to the movements for justice, Irene has multifaceted experience as an intersectional movement builder, scholar, and public thought leader. Franco Rubio is a senior at the University of Southern California, majoring in Sociology with a minor in Race, Ethnicity and Politics, pursuing her senior thesis for the Sociology Honors Program on intersectional movement building and BIPOC community organizing. At USC, she is a student researcher as a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow, USC Warren Bennis Fellow, USC Brittingham Social Enterprise Lab Scholar, and a first-generation and transfer college student as a USC Norman Topping Scholar.

Moving forward, she seeks to continue this community and academic growth as a scholar-activist PhD student, and her potential to attain this is demonstrated by her admittance to prestigious programs. Including Princeton University’s Prospective PhD Preview Program, Harvard Divinity School Diversity & Explorations Program, Humanity in Action Fellowship, Othering & Belonging Institute Fellow at UC Berkeley, Public Voices Fellow of the Op-Ed Project at the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, and a Open Society Foundations Soros Justice Fellow, among others, Franco Rubio devoted to advocating for justice and committed to serving communities of color via academia, community engagement and beyond.

Of Guatemalan and Mexican descent, Franco Rubio remains grounded in community and is devoted to creating an intersectional movement for change as a grassroots organizer, beginning in her hometown of Phoenix and pursuing scholarship as a student in Los Angeles. Irene seeks to continue her public thought leadership as a scholar-activist, writer, organizer and researcher as a catalyst for social change. For more on Irene Franco Rubio’s work, check out:

Lena Wang

Siyue (Lena) Wang is a Ph.D. student at UCLA, School of Education and Information Studies. Her research examines the intersections of race and immigration, specifically how racialization and illegality shape educational aspirations and opportunities for young undocumented adults. Motivated by her experiences as a non-traditional immigrant student, she has led community-centered research on undocumented Asian Pacific Islander youth, facilitated prison education programs for incarcerated students, and investigated college affordability for undocumented students and first-gen, low-income transfer students.

Bridging her scholarship and community advocacy, she aims to create tangible impacts to better the life conditions of system-impacted communities. Lena has mentored many underserved community college students with the Center of Community College Partnerships (CCCP) and empowered undocumented youth to pursue higher education in her role as the project director for Improving Dreams, Equality, Access, and Success (IDEAS) at UCLA. In the wake of the anti-Asian rage, Lena organized a series of racial justice workshops with UCLA Labor Center to mobilize Asian Pacific Islander union leaders, educators, and workers to combat racism, anti-blackness, and foster solidarity.

In her free time, Lena enjoys exploring food and culture in immigrant enclaves. She celebrates the untold stories and resilience of immigrants from all over the world – where she discovers new inspirations and strength to thrive in her field of study.

Student Research

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