Making refugees feel at home

Erik Singh, a senior from Pemberville, Ohio, likes to help people to settle in.

He became involved in the plight of the Somali population in central Ohio two years ago when he joined the Denison chapter of the Roosevelt Institute, a national organization dedicated to forwarding the legacy of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.

The group examined how to help refugees acquire language and other skills for better integration into U.S. society, and Singh took on the role of teaching English to Somali refugees living in Columbus.

That project sparked his curiosity and also his concern for the local Somali population. When he discovered that Anita Waters, a professor of sociology and anthropology, was also an expert on the Somali refugees, Singh knew he could take his interests one step further.

Using his background in political science as a springboard for a research project on refugee business ownership, Singh made connections between his textbooks and real-world economic practices.

His project was called “Outlining Entrepreneurship for Refugees: Possibilities for Somali Business Ownership in Columbus, Ohio.” And while he was doing field research on the streets of Columbus last summer, he got to know the people who are settling into their new lives, and he studied some of their available resources like the Ayoota, an informal community bank that creates a low-cost way for refugees to get money for business start-ups.

This was Singh’s second Summer Scholar research experience. Last year, he studied with Eric Boehme, assistant professor of political science, on a project titled, “Spaces of Coercion, Spaces of Resistance: African American Contestations of Citizenship in the Antebellum and Gilded Ages.”

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