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May 02, 2011

Students Raise Awareness on Refugees’ Plights in Pittsburgh

By Maria Zayas

A new Student College Course (StuCo) next year will teach undergraduates about the issues refugees face.

“A lot of people, even native Pittsburghers in many cases, aren’t aware that Pittsburgh is home to an incredibly diverse refugee population,” said Amanda Kennard, a research associate in the Center for International Relations and Politics in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. She, Audrey Williams and Inyoung Song have created the course 98-170: Refugee Studies in Pittsburgh, to help raise awareness on local refugee populations and their plight.

The U.S. Department of State Office of Refugee Resettlement brings people from all over the world who have refugee status, those who have fled their homes due to fear of imprisonment or persecution, to the United States. At the local level, agencies such as the Jewish Family & Children’s Service, the Pittsburgh Refugee Center, and the Catholic Charities, Diocese of Pittsburgh, work to resettle refugees in the community by providing for their basic needs, helping them adjust to life in the U.S., and teaching them valuable skills for work and the home.

“The StuCo course aims to raise awareness in the wider community of these large numbers of people coming from Nepal and from Burma, and from many other places, and settling here,” Kennard said. “We also want to educate students about the challenges that refugees often face. It’s difficult adjusting to a new life in an American metropolitan city, especially if you’ve spent your life so far in an isolated refugee camp on the other side of the world.”

Through their proposal for the course, the students were selected to attend the Clinton Global Initiative University Annual Meeting in early April at the University of California, San Diego. President Clinton launched the program in 2007 to engage the next generation of leaders on college campuses around the world. Nearly 1,200 attendees met to discuss five focus areas: education, environment & climate change, peace & human rights, poverty alleviation and public health.

“People were really excited,” said Williams, a junior majoring in international relations and politics. “I think the real mission of the conference was to have students meet others interested in the same topic and create this community of people who are really excited about development and helping others.”

The conference, which brings together students who come with a project in mind, is committed to incite and encourage youth activism.

The course will include the usual academic coursework that covers the legal and historical components of the social issues, as well as local and international case studies.

In addition, speakers from local refugee families and organizations will come to speak to the class.

The San Diego trip was sponsored by CMU’s Center for International Relations and Politics.