Gannon University students and faculty have been working with local refugees who have fled their home countries due to war and persecution and will present information they’ve gathered about their experiences at the upcoming Refugee Journeys event at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 21, in the Yehl Ballroom. The event will be part of CHESS’s ongoing Surviving and Thriving in Uncertain Times series.
Carolyn Baugh, Ph.D., and students from her undergraduate history classes have been working on the Voices of Erie Oral History Project since 2014. Students have interviewed local refugees and asked them about their experiences escaping their hometowns and how they ended up finding shelter in Erie. Meanwhile, Chris Magno, Ph.D., and students from his Geographic Information System (GIS) Mapping classes have been working on taking the information from these interviews and using it to map the refugees’ journeys.
According to its website, the goal of the Voices of Erie Oral History Project is to raise awareness about refugee issues and help establish connections between refugees and the communities that host them, which in this case is Erie. Along with documenting refugees’ journeys, those involved in the project also advocate for donations to the Erie Office of Refugee and Resettlement based on the needs assessed through speaking with refugee communities.
Throughout the past four years, refugees from Bosnia, Iraq, Syria and Bhutan have shared their stories as part of the project. Baugh said that she was able to initially connect with local Bosnian refugees at their local community center and Iraqi refugees at Habibi, a local Mediterranean restaurant. She was able to reach out to Syrian and Bhutan refugees through the International Institute, a branch of the Erie Office of Refugee and Resettlement.
“The International Institute has been amazing in helping us to connect with local refugees and allowing us to use their facilities for interviewing,” Baugh said.
Melissa Bronder, a freshman pre-medicine psychology major, is one of the students involved in the project and said that the experience made her realize that the effort to support refugees is much closer to home than many realize.
“The illuminating conversation that I had put me in the shoes of a refugee and enforced the idea that refugees are people that deserve help and a great life just as much as your average American,” Bronder said. “I would never have realized the depth of a refugee’s struggle or their amazing personalities and lives without engaging in a conversation with them outside the classroom.”
Magno said along with allowing students to gain an objective understanding of the refugee situation in our community, the project is also countering misinformation about refugees propagated by fake media sites.
Bronder will be speaking at the event along with Baugh, who said attendees will also be shown short video clips from various interviews. She also said that she has invited some of the refugees who have been involved in the project to speak about what their experience in Erie has been like thus far.
“The project has helped connect students to the refugee community but also has allowed us to identify ways to meet some of the difficulties that refugees face,” Baugh said. “At Gannon we are working on specific ways to help integrate our new neighbors into our community, and people who attend will get tuned into some of these chances to help.”