Over the last few decades, the United States has opened its doors to 3 million refugees. The rate of intake has decreased in recent years, but the worldwide demand is high and shows few signs of abating. Refugees are a special kind of immigrant, and the United States has the highest population of immigrants of any country in the world. Statistically speaking, you might know an immigrant family or two.
If you don't, you're not alone. While immigrants might
be common in our country's population, we aren't all exposed to
their lives or know their struggles. Jessica Friedrichs, assistant
professor and director of the undergraduate social work program,
seeks to change that by engaging students across all disciplines at
Carlow with her service learning course titled Immigration in the
"I wanted to reach beyond social work majors to help
educate students what Carlow's values on this subject are,"
Friedrichs said. "Carlow's position on immigration is very
Carlow University is a Mercy institution, but the
definition of "mercy," as it's used by Carlow's founding order, the
Sisters of Mercy, is not a passive thing. As defined by James
Keenan, S.J., "Mercy is the willingness to enter into the chaos of
Friedrichs exemplifies this critical concern with
direct engagement with immigrant and refugee populations and the
social justice efforts being made to integrate immigrants and
refugees into our society.
A good way to learn about the struggle of others is
simply to talk to them. As part of this service learning course
Friedrichs and her students visited the headquarters of Literacy
Pittsburgh to meet people from all over the world learning English
as a second-or third, or fourth- language. Carlow students and
English students paired up just to have conversations. The Carlow
students got to practice speaking to people with limited English
proficiency, while the latter got to practice their English, all
the while sharing stories about the refugee experience and their
lives here and abroad.
That connection to the lives of actual refugees and
immigrants continued with the Somali Bantu Community Association,
which represents hundreds of Somali Bantu immigrants living in
Pittsburgh. When she reached out to them for a tour of Carlow's
campus and some quality time with her students, "They said they
didn't want a standard tour that they got at other universities,"
Friedrichs said. "They wanted to know what it was really like to be
Muslim on campus, or to be black on campus, what it was like to be
the first in their family to go to college. We had students who
could relate to those experiences, and we put together a tour."
Panel discussions during the tour were illuminating for both Somali
Bantu students and Carlow students, as they learned that their
experiences are not so different.
This sense of camaraderie with immigrants continued
with what Friedrichs called a "solidarity" project, also a part of
the coursework. Her students took what they had learned and brought
it back to their home communities or wherever they spent their
spring breaks. They were free to decide for themselves what this
meant. For some, a book report on an immigrant-related subject was
enough. For others, like Chandler Stockwell and Katie Baum, it was
a little more involved. They drove from Pittsburgh to Michigan and
back again as their normal college commute at the beginning and end
of semesters, but this time with a twist: They stopped at
immigrant-owned restaurants and stores along the way and left
favorable reviews about the establishments on websites like Yelp.
It seems like a small investment-a 5-star rating and some nice
words on an app-but the benefit to a small business is enormous.
Some students kept "microaggression journals" using the class's
social justice focus as a way to measure the tiny, almost
imperceptible ways in which those around them talked about people
from disadvantaged communities.
A major part of the course involved an
awareness-raising project, for which the class was divided into
groups. One group set up a table in the University Commons, an area
of high traffic perfect for spreading the message of the immigrant
experience. Another group made buttons with messages such as
"Immigrants Make America Great," "Different Does Not Mean
Dangerous" and "Proud to Protect Refugees" and handed them out at
Undergraduate Scholarship Day in A.J. Palumbo Hall of Science and
Friedrichs enabled her students to enter into the
chaos of others, and they emerged with greater understanding.
Student Jessica Strochs reflected on her participation
in the class: "At the beginning of the year I dreaded this whole
experience. I wasn't comfortable having a discussion about
immigrants and refugees. I wasn't ready to discuss the political
aspects that play a part in it as well. ... As the days passed on,
it became more and more exciting. I attribute this to the fact that
it pushed me out of my comfort zone, helped me become aware of my
own beliefs and allowed me to grow as a person. I am thankful for
the challenges this class presented and thankful I had the
opportunity to learn and grow."
Jessica Friedrichs will be offering this class again
in spring 2019.
By James Foreman