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The service-learning course developed at the University of Tulsa involves students in the refugee resettlement process through participation in the University’s Every Campus A Refuge (ECAR) chapter. Through a trauma-informed approach, students work with an ECAR family on campus and engage in other service-learning tasks with local refugee resettlement. 

In this Article:

  1. Purpose for the Program
  2. Key to the Success of the Program
  3. Key Actors and Participants
  4. Impact and Outcomes
  5. Implementation Steps
  6. Challenges Faced
  7. Resources and Partnerships
  8. Looking to the Future
  9. Contact and Additional Resources

1. Purpose for the Program

The purpose of the course is to engage students with the refugee resettlement process while creating a more welcoming community for newcomers in Tulsa. Through taking the class, students gain a better understanding of the refugee resettlement process in the United States including what resources are available to newcomers, how newcomers are welcomed to new communities, and the broader needs of migrant populations. In working with refugees, these students develop a deeper understanding of cultural diversity and are able to apply this knowledge in a trauma-informed, compassionate approach. This course addresses the broader needs of newly arrived refugees in helping these individuals access services, practice English, and develop community and friendships when first arriving in the United States. This course helps address issues of refugee self-sufficiency within the first 90 days, as students help newcomers with job searches, language practice, and resource access. It also aids in refugee resettlement staffing storages by helping with wrap-around services for newcomers. More broadly, it opens new career pathways for students in refugee resettlement, aiding in long-term staffing issues for refugee serving agencies.   

2. Key to the Success of the Program

This course brings together traditional seminar learning, where students read papers/books and discuss ideas, with hands-on service learning. Students apply their knowledge to create a program proposal for refugee community support, which allows them to conceptualize new ways of supporting newcomers in their community.  

3. Key Actors and Participants

The key actors include the instructor and the student participants in the course.

The course is taught as a cross-listed Anthropology and Sociology class, but all interested students are eligible to enroll in the class. To date, the course has enrolled students majoring in anthropology, sociology, psychology, political science, business, and computer science. Other key actors include the refugee resettlement agency partner, B’nai Emunah Refugee Resettlement Agency (HIAS affiliate), and other local refugee-serving organizations such as the YWCA. B’nai Emunah Refugee Resettlement Agency serves as the Every Campus A Refuge (ECAR) partner with the University of Tulsa. The newcomer communities who engage with the course include the ECAR families who live on campus, newcomers within the first 90 days of entry into the US, and refugee youth in the City of Tulsa. 

5. Impact and Outcomes

The course has been taught twice. To date, students have worked with two different ECAR families, as well as other newcomers through helping with cultural orientation classes and participating in a refugee youth mentoring program.

Three of the students who took the first course are still engaged with refugee communities; one student has an internship with B’nai Emunah Refugee Resettlement agency, the second is currently doing a student research project on refugee mental health, and the third student graduated and is now working full time for a refugee support service agency. The initial Graduate Assistant for the course still regularly visits the ECAR family they worked with and teaches Cultural Orientation classes for local resettlement agencies.

Thus, this course has had a profound impact on students by expanding career and training options, impacted refugee resettlement agencies by increasing volunteer and staff numbers, and also impacted the lives of refugees. 

6. Implementation Steps

Here are a few steps to implement a similar program:

  1. Gauge the interest in the course through discussions with students, interactions with student clubs/groups who work on refugee initiatives 
  2. Develop a partnership with local refugee resettlement agencies 
  3. Design a course syllabus 
  4. Obtain permission from the Department Chair and/or Curriculum Committee to teach the course 

7. Challenges 

Students have busy schedules and it can be challenging to time service-learning activities with both students and newcomers schedules. Because of this, I broadened the service-learning activities to include a diversity of tasks that allow students to also work at home, on weekends, and later at night. These activities include having students make lists and maps of local resources within walking distance of campus and organizing clothing/toy drives, in addition to working directly with refugees. 

8. Resources and Partnerships

Financial resources: A small budget for supplies including English language books, transportation, children’s activities, and toys helps with engagement. However, the course can be taught without financial resources if needed. 

Staff: a faculty member is needed to teach the course. There is a lot of outside class time required, including organizing service learning tasks and being present at tasks (at least initially) to supervise, making sure students and newcomers feel comfortable working together. Because of this, having a graduate assistant helps distribute some of the workload. 

Partnership with local refugee resettlement agency: these partners are essential for identifying the needs of the refugee communities and helping to facilitate service-learning activities. 

9. Looking to the Future

The instructor hopes to further develop Cultural Orientation learning as part of the course, that is to say: developing service learning activities around expanded cultural orientation modules that students can work on with refugees. This would help guide students through activities that will be useful for newcomers while increasing refugees’ pathways to self-sufficiency. 

10. Contact Information

Name: Danielle Macdonald
Title: Associate Professor of Anthropology
Organization: University of Tulsa, Department of Arts & Sciences: Anthropology & Sociology (Danielle Macdonald profile)

State: Oklahoma

Partner contact: B’nai Emunah Refugee Resettlement Agency (HIAS affiliate) – refugees@bnaiemunah.com

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