Below are my reflections on Themes 1-3.
I know a bit about the Syrian Refugee Crisis because I have incorporated articles and perspectives into my class during our current event time each week. Especially 2016 and 2017, when the crisis seemed to be reaching is peak in the attention of the US media, there was a great deal written about it in publications such as the NYT, WP, PBS, etc. I show excerpts from articles from these sources when my students bring up the refugee crisis. I also had the honor to see Hassan Akkad speak to a Model UN delegation of my students last year. Mr. Akkad was an English teacher but had to flee in Syria in the last few years. He was one of the refugees who filmed his journey for the BBC documentary Exodus: Our Journey to Europe. His message especially inspired a sense of interconnectedness and an appeal to empathy for those like him. I take care to ensure the resources I show my students don’t exclusively perpetuate a culture of fear and exclusion around the refugee crisis.
The Exodus documentary certainly represented a resource meant to inspire empathy and sentimental connection with those offering their journeys for filming. I have seen a number of sources perpetuating a fear-based narrative in my local newspaper from Indianapolis, the Indy Star. Before he was VP, Mike Pence was the governor of Indiana. He was one of the first governors to ask that a refugee family be removed from the state and settled elsewhere. His Lieutenant Governor became governor after the 2017 election. He, too, perpetuated a fear-based narrative about the refugees, going so far as to plan to instruct the Indiana National Guard to refuse refugees entrance to the state at certain access points. It did not materialize, but the ban on admission of refugees to the state caused quite a bit of backlash. The range in the media (and politics) is so broad, stretching from absolute refusal based on fear and concerns of safety to absolute admission.
My own opinions have certainly been shaped by the amount of photos and first-hand accounts I have seen simply by seeking them out for my students. After watching an excerpt of the Exodus documentary and hearing from Mr. Akkad, I certainly noticed my opinions swinging even farther toward sentiment and empathy. The images and individuals captured in the documentary force the viewer into quite a bit of cognitive dissonance about the reaction of fear and exclusion from the West. Discussions of this topic by political candidates have often just made me more frustrated, as I have yet to see enough evidence to support some of their claims.
- What are the key needs and challenges for Syrian refugees that you have identified through your research?
- Basic needs such as adequate shelter, resources like food (preservation) and water (temperature, cleanliness, etc.) are not always secure for Syrian refugees. While many in the Azraq camp now have access to electricity from solar power, there are plenty of others living in and outside of camps that do not have such needs met. Other challenges include integrating into communities and finding support from neighbors, especially highlighted in the responses of the children in the ABC News video. Education and employment are also significant challenges, as many cannot seek certain kinds of work while they have refugee status.
- What types of responses are required? What gaps would remain and how could these be addressed?
- The responses from the Jordanian government and electric company Mustakbal are admirable, but it is certainly not enough to cover all of the gaps that exist between support for Syrian refugees and the needs that have yet to be met. The gaps that exist between what is available and what is necessary for robust and comfortable shelter, education, employment opportunities obviously can’t be met only by governments or only by the UN and NGOs, but it does seem that they need to make a much greater effort to address the needs that are not yet being met.
- What are the different actions required by government agencies, donors, the UN and NGOs?
- Obviously government agencies are required to process and document refugees entering their respective countries. It is incumbent upon government agencies to ensure that both their citizens and those entering their countries as refugees are kept safe and secure throughout the crisis. Donors have a responsibility to devote funds and resources to the areas of great and essential needs of the populations they are serving. The UN is required to ensure their resources are being used to meet the needs of the refugees, then follow up with other actors – government agencies, NGOs, and others – to ensure their multi-pronged approach is working as best it can.
- In your experience traveling anywhere that felt outside the norm (i.e. another country, a different state, etc.), how have you experienced your gender? What has it felt like to be you in a different context and to feel different social rules and expectations?
- I have traveled only to England and The Netherlands outside of the United States. Neither of those places caused me great dissonance about my experience of gender in a different context. I have noticed that the times in my travels to those countries and other states in the US make me notice my means of dressing and ‘performing’ my gender relative to those identifying as women around me. Women in the Midwest are not all dressed formally or even quite nicely all the time. I grew up in an area where it was perfectly normal for many women to be dressed in athletic or farm clothes without any adornments or makeup. When I arrived to college in Boston, that was not the norm at all. That transition was the most uncomfortable of any I have made in my travels and understanding of my gender performance. I was surrounded by a relatively affluent population at university, but even knowing that didn’t make the discomfort go away. I gradually moved a bit along the spectrum toward the gender performance that was more common at school, but only within my means and not all of the time. Often it was simply easier to move just a bit and experience a little internal discomfort than worry about perceptions or looks and judgement from others. This is so minor compared to the tension many feel between their understanding of gender and their discomfort or comfort with the norms of various places. I have been lucky enough to only feel a slight bit of unease a few times in my life.
- What did those experiences make you think about your gender at home in your day-to-day life?
- I thought more about the way gender was performed and experienced in the area in which I grew up, which to be honest has changed quite from the impact of social media. Ease of access to popular culture and the spread of influence of mass media have certainly moved the performance and expectations of gender closer to those that I saw and experienced in college and in Europe. It made me think about the value that women anywhere place on appearance as an aspect of their gender performance.
- What is your perceptions of the hijab (headscarf) and its prevalence in the region? Do you have preconceptions, judgements, curiosities?
- I have my students to a number of readings about the hijab, many written from the perspective of women who are Muslim and do or do not choose to wear the hijab. I have plenty that I am curious about beyond what is articulated in those readings – how often is the hijab both an expression of personal piety only, or that plus a political statement? Many women feel liberated while wearing it, but how many feel restricted? Are the perceptions about it in the US difficult to manage when traveling or living in the US, or do people express their curiosity and move on?