On Friday, January 17, the Second Annual Shifting Worlds: Displacement and Forced Migration in Modern Times Institute took place on Guilford College’s campus. The conference was moderated by Guilford’s own Drs. Diya Abdo, Mark Justad, and Christian Matheis as well as the Center for New North Carolinians’ Dr. Nneze Eluka and Kelsey White, and UNCG’s Naglaa Rashawn.
The conference focused on the mental health aspects of refugeeism, im/migration, and asylum-seeking. The morning session speakers delved into policies and practices. Law professor Dr. Margaret Taylor, Immigration Law specialist Helen Parsonage, and pediatrician Dr. Shruti Simha discussed the conditions of detention centers on the United States’ southern border. The speakers spoke of their experiences at the border, unjust reasons for detention centers, and the sometimes-irreparable damage to one’s brain due to exposure to constant toxic stress. Simha’s research highlighted the physical damage to a child’s neurons and their inability to develop and form properly under stress. While the conclusions were harrowing, the presenters inspired attendees to assist those who are in detention centers.
In the latter half of the morning session, Director of Immigration Law Clinic Katherine Reynolds and attorney Devon Senges explored U.S. policies regarding refugees, immigrants, and asylum seekers, while anthropology professor Dr. Heide Castañeda presented on the migration determinants of mental health. Discussions revolved around the decreasing number of refugees allowed to resettle in the U.S. each year, unconstitutional and inhumane policies, as well as the health issues that are present in families with mixed-citizenship-status. In 2016, 85,000 refugees were resettled in the U.S., whereas the cap for 2020 is only 18,000.
During the lunch session, students presented on their own research regarding refugee and immigrant issues. Guilford College senior Raina Baier discussed her own experience working with a refugee family. Also from Guilford, seniors Kentaro Nakajima, Carina Holmes, and Daisy Arguello displayed their research on FaithAction IDs and whether or not they are accessible and useful for immigrants and refugees (surveys show they are!). Additionally, UNCG MPH students Saif Al-Amin and Caroline Wells examined the HIV/Aids crisis in Myanmar regarding refugeeism.
Baier was grateful for her opportunity to present.
“It was really very humbling and exciting to be able to present my own work in tandem with the work of the organization. I felt like the key presenters were speaking from a place of more experience and listening to their work was equally as encouraging as it was disheartening because even though there are people being hurt by this crisis every hour, the encouraging part is that we can meet here and exchange with those who are doing the actual work. I also appreciated that the conference made a point to include the voices of people who have first-hand experiences instead of just academic voices,” Baier said.
Presenters at the afternoon session of the conference delved into community support and initiatives. Capt. Curi Kim, UNCG alumna Siddiga Ahmed, and UNC MSW student Tamesha Clark explored the mental health needs of refugees and migrants in the United States. The speakers engaged with common mental disorders that result from migration and the studies around the Bhutanese suicide epidemic. Multiple presenters expressed the importance of mental health screening for refugees and shared testimonies from people who found it helpful.
Yoga therapist Mona Flynn, IAC Director Jose Bernal, NAI’s Leilani Roughton, ECAR Program Coordinator Kathleen Herbst, Refugee Coordinator Vung Ksor discussed community-based support initiatives for refugees and immigrants in NC. Initiatives included free community yoga, the Faith Action International house, English classes, education, and job counseling at NAI, ECAR chapters at colleges and universities, and healthcare access at the CNNC. Flynn even got attendees engaged in a much needed yogic stretch during her presentation. Anonymous questions indicated school representatives wanting to implement ECAR on their campuses.
Guilford College senior Allie Eigsti attended the conference and thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon session.
“I found the information on community support to be incredibly useful to gain an understanding of the wide variety of stressors people may face when resettling in the Greensboro area. It was interesting to learn how immigrant-led initiatives are working to empower recently-settled people and the steps community members can take to get involved,” Eigsti said.
Toward the end of the conference, attendees heard powerful testimonies from refugees. Guilford College junior Ree Ree Wei, CNNC’s Raouf Ousmane, and UNCG alumna Noor Ghazi shared their personal stories. Stories ranged from begging for resettlement anywhere but the United States to embracing the skills and resilience learned from translating for one’s family. Those who attended were grateful for the openness of the speakers.
After the presentations, attendees were invited to browse tables featuring art, jewelry, clothing, and food crafted by refugee vendors. The institutes represented at the conference tabled alongside the vendors so people could find ways to get more involved. Canadian and Latinx musician Quilla performed at the reception. Of Peruvian descent, Quilla is an avid supporter of im/migrant and refugee rights. She performed songs inspired by themes of migration, climate change, and personal transformation.
Special thanks to Guilford’s Center for Principled Problem Solving and Excellence in Teaching, Office of Advancement, the Anthropology, Sociology, Justice and Policy Studies Departments, as well as Peace and Conflict Studies Departments, Every Campus a Refuge, University of North Carolina Greensboro’s Center for New North Carolinians, and Elon University for coming together to create this conference. If you would like to learn more or get involved, the organizations that attended the conference will be listed below.