"This, What We Go Through. People Should Know:" Refugee Girls Constructing Identity

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Virginia Tech


This study examines ways in which African and Afro-Caribbean refugee girls and young women negotiate and perform identity in varied social contexts. Designed as youth-centered participatory action research, the study draws from three years of engagement with a group of refugee girls, ages 11-23, from Somalia, Liberia, Haiti, Burundi, and Sudan. The research occurred in the broader context of The Imani Nailah Project, a program I initiated for refugee middle and high school girls in May 2008. Through in-depth interviews, youth-led focus groups, and arts-based research, Imani researchers (study participants) and I explored experiences and expressions of gender, race/ethnicity, nationality, age, religion and citizenship status, as well as the intersections among these multiply-located identities. This study spans a wide range of identity negotiations and performances, from micro-level interactions to macro-level impacts of dominant culture.

Three interrelated chapters focus on programmatic, methodological, and theoretical components of the dissertation research: (a) how refugee girls and university volunteers pursue mutual learning within a service context; (b) how girl-centered participatory action research can serve as a vehicle towards relational activism, and (c) how broader discourses of othering shape the salience of refugee and citizen identities in the lives of refugee girls. Combined, these articles expand our understanding of how refugee girls narrate self as they participate in and contribute to multiple social worlds.



Arts-Based Inquiry, Belonging, Citizenship, Girls' Studies, Identity, Mutual Learning, Othering, Participatory Action Research, Qualitative Research, Refugee Youth, Service-Learning, Women's Studies, Youth Development