2014-2015 Service Learning Course

Refugees: The Politics of Displacement

Throughout the world, millions of individuals have been forced to flee their homes due to persecution and armed conflict.  The majority of these are women and children.  In fact, over half of the world's refugees are children under 18 years of age.  International guidelines, such as the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, and a framework for responding to refugee emergencies exist, but numerous challenges remain, including: how to determine who is a “bona fide” refugee; the need for burden-sharing arrangements between countries of the global North and the global South (which host the vast majority of refugee populations); how to safeguard and better provide for the most vulnerable groups, such as orphans and unaccompanied children, during refugee migrations; and the need for global partnerships to combat smugglers and human traffickers.

This year-long seminar will draw upon case materials, selected readings (including policy briefs, academic articles, memoirs, and ethnographies), and documentary films to explore the causes and consequences of forced displacement.  We will also examine the assumptions and actions of governments, the donor community, the United Nations, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that typically intervene on behalf of refugees.  Complex ethical, legal, and policy issues will be considered, including: (1) ethical dilemmas in the provision of protection and care, (2) contrasting models of care: camp settings v. urban refugees, (3) legal status, and distinctions between refugees, asylees, and other migrants, (4) decisions about “durable solutions”: repatriation, local integration, and third country resettlement, (5) states’ responsibilities and increasing restrictions on access to asylum, and (6) challenges that refugee migrations pose to state-centric concepts of citizenship.

Students will explore the link between global refugee movements and the status of refugees and other immigrants in America through involvement in individual, service-learning projects in their local community.  Students are expected to engage in a community service activity that brings them into direct contact with refugees (or, potentially other categories of immigrants) for at least three hours on a weekly basis.  This might take the form of a mentoring relationship through: ESL or homework tutoring, or a “befriending” program; acting as a teacher’s aide; or advocacy and promoting public awareness for refugees.  The community-based service component will help students to connect theory with practice and personal experience, and it will assist organizations to provide greater services and more individualized care to clients.  

Sample of past service-learning courses

  • First Year Studies: Developmental Psychology & Educational Perspectives
  • The History of Elemental Mathematics: Pythagoras to Newton
  • Methods of Theater Outreach
  • Divided Nation? Cities and Suburbs in the U.S.
  • Children and Chronic Disease
  • Contemporary Immigration and Immigrant Rights in New York
  • Organized Money or Organized People: Voters, Movements, Media, and Money in U.S. Politics
  • Sound Structures, Social Structures
  • Modern Dance and Social Conscience
  • The Crime against Civil Rights: Crime Policy and Prisons
  • Science Education: From Congress to the Classroom
  • On Representing Indigenous Cultures: Latin America and Beyond

"Service learning is an invaluable part of teaching public policy. By working in non-profit organizations, students will learn about the penal system from the perspective of people who are disproportionately impacted by it: they form relationships with individuals in jails and prisons, with people who are recently released, and with family members. These experiences provoke complex questions and reflections about privilege, justice, and solutions during classroom discussion."

Service Learning Faculty Member

Faculty Members

Interested in teaching a Service Learning course? Contact Mara Gross, Director of Community Partnerships and Service Learning, at (914) 395-2588 or see more in-depth information on MySLC.