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Tips for faculty about partnering with refugee agencies

How are your students engaging with refugee communities?

Here are suggestions for planning assignments

People with refugee backgrounds (also known as “New Americans”) are valuable members of our community, and there is much to learn from them. While refugee agencies appreciate the enthusiasm and interest in learning about refugee issues, they are ill-equipped to handle the high volume of requests to connect with refugees. As a result, they collaborated with faculty and the Service-Learning Program to propose the following principles for creating effective assignments about/with refugee communities.

Suggestions below fall under these headings:

  1. Design assignments that promote listening, mutuality
  2. Consult with refugee agencies in advance
  3. Plan assignments with flexibility
  4. Prepare students to engage ethically and with cultural humility
  5. Check out other resources (see far below)


Create opportunities for dialogue, reciprocity, and mutual understanding. Move beyond the “interview someone who is different from you” assignment; this can promote an orientation of outsider/insider, in which the other person is a research object. Instead, try one of these ideas:

  • Attend an event where refugees and community members are already sharing stories and getting to know each other.
  • For upcoming events, google “Neighbor Narratives Boise,” or “Refugee Speakers Bureau Boise,” “International Community Dinner Boise,” or contact 208-336-4222.
  • Join a conversation rather than schedule an interview. (Visit the BSU Multilingual Student Alliance Facebook page for ideas)
  • Observe a tutoring session or classroom (contact English Language Center to schedule a tour or observe—see contact information below**).
  • Provide opportunities for collaboration. See Sample Service-Learning projects with Boise refugee communities.


  • Contact the Service-Learning Program* for help connecting with refugee agencies or faculty experienced in partnering with refugees. See a list of refugee agencies far below**.
  • Design activities/assignments that benefit the refugees and not just the students. Ask the refugee liaison what would be useful to them, then design the assignment together.
  • Think of refugees and agencies as partners and collaborators, rather than detached research subjects. Contacting them well before the course starts is respectful of their time and their contributions.
  • Be patient and persistent with contact; these agencies are under-resourced and are often responding to emergencies.
  • Consider whether an assignment you create will be a burden on refugees or refugee agencies, in terms of time, coordination, or emotional impacts. Restructure or eliminate the assignment if it is.


  • Articulate the purpose for engaging with refugees and why it’s part of the course.
  • Offer flexibility on assignment deadlines and design, due to common scheduling challenges.
  • Ask students to review Student Resources from the Idaho Office of Refugees before contacting refugee agencies.


Promote sensitivity to cultural differences–foster curiosity about different norms, responses, and expectations.

Prepare students through readings, videos, and discussions on the issue (see resource links below). Some ideas:

If you are asking students to talk with refugees, prepare them to ask safe questions, e.g. ask questions about their life now in Boise. Do not ask them about their trauma stories. Another good start is, “I would like to learn about your culture. Could you share something about…[something positive, like food and other traditions] or “What would you like me to know about your culture?” Find other good questions at

  • Assign reflective writing in which students can list their beliefs and assumptions about refugees, then debrief about the differences and similarities, strengths and assets, and positional privilege. Challenge assumptions by discussing evidence.
  • See “Steps for promoting empathy” — and share your ideas.


*The Service-Learning Program offers faculty individual consultations with tips for successful implementations and partnerships, even if your course is not designated as a Service-Learning course.

** Refugee resettlement organizations

Agency for New Americans  208-338-0033

International Rescue Committee (IRC)

English Language Center

Idaho Office for Refugees

And as Archbishop Tutu said, When we see others as separate, they become a threat.  When we see others as part of us, as connected, as interdependent, then there is no challenge we cannot face –together.

Last edited by January 4, 2024