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Planning Assignments with Refugee Communities in Mind

By: Brady W Moore   Published 11:26 am / October 9, 2017

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 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

Prepare Students

  • Promote sensitivity to cultural differences and foster curiosity about different norms, responses and expectations.
  • Prepare students through readings, videos and discussions on the issue. 
  • 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
  • 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

Agency partners can be reached at the following:

Agency for New Americans  (208) 338-0033

Julie Bayard, volunteer coordinator

Yasmin Aguilar,, community outreach


International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Megan Schwab, (208) 344-1792


English Language Center

Steve Rainey,

(208) 338-2696


Idaho Office for Refugees

Kara Fink,

(208) 336-4222