Refugees, also known as “new Americans,” can teach us about the world, which is why last year more than 25 faculty members involved their students with refugee communities and resettlement agencies. Agencies appreciate the enthusiasm and interest in learning about refugee issues but they are ill-equipped to handle the high volume of requests to connect with refugees. As a result, those agencies collaborated with faculty and the Service-Learning Program to propose the following principles for creating effective assignments about and with refugee communities.
Design Assignments that Promote Listening, Mutuality
Create opportunities for dialogue, reciprocity and mutual understanding. Move beyond the “interview someone who is different from you” assignment as this can promote an orientation of outsider/insider, in which the other person is a research object. Instead, try one of these ideas:
- Attend an event where refugees and community members are already sharing stories and getting to know each other. Here are ideas:
- Boise State is hosting a special event designed for students from 7-8:30 p.m. Oct. 12 in the Bishop Barnwell Room. The event is titled “A Night with Refugee Storytellers.” If you’d like to attend, please RSVP as soon as possible.
- Other events can be found by searching for “Neighbor Narratives Boise” or “Refugee Speakers Bureau Boise” or by contacting Kara Fink at email@example.com or (208) 336-4222.
- Observe a tutoring session or classroom. Contact the English Language Center to schedule a tour or observe.
- Provide opportunities for collaboration. Check out these sample Service-Learning projects with refugee communities.
Consult with Refugee Agencies in Advance
- Contact the Service-Learning Program for help connecting with refugee agencies or faculty experienced in partnering with refugees.
- Design activities and assignments that benefit refugees and not just the students. Ask the refugee liaison what would be useful to them, then design the assignment together.
- Think of refugees and agencies as partners and collaborators, rather than detached research subjects. Contacting them well before the course starts is respectful of their time and their contributions.
- Be patient and persistent with contact; these agencies are under-resourced and often responding to emergencies.
- Consider whether an assignment you create will be a burden on refugees or refugee agencies, in terms of time, coordination, or emotional impacts. Restructure or eliminate the assignment if it is.
Plan Assignments with These Elements
- Articulate the purpose for engaging with refugees and why it’s part of the course.
- Offer flexibility on assignment deadlines and design, due to common scheduling challenges.
- Ask students to review Student Resources from the Idaho Office of Refugees before contacting refugee agencies. If they still need information, ask them to complete this information request form.
- Promote sensitivity to cultural differences and foster curiosity about different norms, responses and expectations.
- Prepare students through readings, videos and discussions on the issue.
- “Half the World: Refugees Transform the City of Trees” (available on PDF).
- The TED talk, Danger of a Single Story or Shut Up and Listen
- Refugee 101 through Idaho Office for Refugees
- Follow local refugee agencies on social media
- If you are asking students to talk with refugees, prepare them to ask safe questions, such as questions about their life now in Boise. Remember, do not ask them about their trauma stories. Another good start is, “I would like to learn about your culture. Could you share something about…[something positive, like food and other traditions] or “What would you like me to know about your culture?” Find other good questions at Storycorps.org
- Assign reflective writing in which students can list their beliefs and assumptions about refugees, then debrief about the differences and similarities, strengths and assets, and positional privilege. Challenge assumptions by discussing evidence.
- See “Steps for promoting empathy” — and share your ideas.
Consult Other Resources
- Readings/videos about refugees (suggested by Boise State faculty for students)
- Films on Demand – Full length and segment based films with 98 videos about refugees.
- Ted talks on racism and prejudice
- Statistics: The World Bank – Refugee population by country or territory of origin
- CIA: The World Factbook – Information on the history, people, government, economy, geography, communications, transportation, military, and transnational issues for 267 world entities.
- Ethnic News Watch – Searches ethnic issues in current news
- CAL – Immigration and Refugee Integration Resources
- Cultural Orientation Resource Center – Refugee Backgrounders
- Albertsons Library Guide for students working with refugees to find:
- Articles, videos and books related to refugee issues
- Cultural backgrounds for major refugee countries
- Information on local resources for refugees
- Recent news articles relating to refugee issues
Agency partners can be reached at the following:
Agency for New Americans (208) 338-0033
Julie Bayard, volunteer coordinator
Yasmin Aguilar, firstname.lastname@example.org, community outreach
International Rescue Committee (IRC)
Megan Schwab Megan.Schwab@rescue.org, (208) 344-1792
English Language Center
Steve Rainey, email@example.com
Idaho Office for Refugees
Kara Fink, firstname.lastname@example.org