Kenan Refugee Project

The Kenan Institute for Ethics has engaged in a multi-site community-based research project that has included sites in eastern Nepal; Cairo, Egypt; Jordan; northeastern Kenya; and Durham exploring the effects of displacement and resettlement upon refugees.

ref-resettlementDurham is one of many communities nationwide that takes in refugees from around the world as they arrive in the US for third-country resettlement. The project was inspired by a semester-long faculty/student working group on refugees led by our first practitioner-in-residence, Fiona Terry.

The project is directed by Suzanne Shanahan, and it emerged from a class she taught in Spring 2010 with undergraduate and graduate students interested in ethical and health-related issues surrounding refugee resettlement. With the project, the Institute sent teams of graduate and undergraduate students on six-week research trips to Nepal during Summer 2010 and Summer 2011, and sponsored the 2012 Duke Winter Forum: Refugees, Rights, Resettlement. In Spring 2012, a new DukeImmerse program was created in which students take four interdisciplinary courses on the topic of forced migration and undergo a month of field research with Bhutanese refugees in Nepal and Iraqi refugees in Egypt. The program continued the research in the spring semester of 2013. In 2014, a Bass Connections project was formed on “Displacement, Resettlement and Global Mental Health in the Middle East,” which began to analyze some of the previously collected data as well as perform additional fieldwork. In spring of that year, the DukeImmerse: Uprooted/Rerouted students traveled to Nepal and also to Jordan, to interview Iraqi and Syrian refugees.


Community-building collaborations between students and the local refugee community include:

MASTERY. Mentorship, Academics, and Self-esteem: Tutoring and Engaging with Refugee Youth (MASTERY) is a weekly K-12 tutoring program for refugee youth in Durham. This ongoing program, organized by Kenan Institute for Ethics students Cece Mercer and Rosie Nowhitney, pairs Duke undergraduate tutors and refugee students with the goal of providing mentorship, assistance with schoolwork, English tutoring, and a supportive community.

SuWA (Supporting Women’s Action). This student-organized community effort works to empower refugee women in Durham through education and community building. Weekly meetings provide English classes for Arabic speakers, community-oriented events for families, and focus groups to facilitate cultural expression and mobilize community action.


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