Refugee Related UVM Theses

“Seeking Asylum Across the International Boundary: Legal Terms and Geopolitical Conditions of Irregular Border Crossing and Asylum Seeking between the United States and Canada, 2016 – 2018”

Author: Sarah Barrett (2018)


This thesis explores the surge in the irregular border crossings of asylum seekers across the International Boundary into Canada between 2016 to 2018. The goal of this project is to compile an account of the legal terms and geopolitical conditions that act to generate and shape this migration. The trajectory of this research necessitated the study of the evolving nature of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in the United States as well as the US-Canada Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) and its controversy. I came to explore how both respectively act to produce and structure these irregular border crossings. While the annulment of TPS is situated within a broader landscape of anti-immigrant and anti-refugee policy in the US under the Trump administration, I place a particular focus on TPS because of the way in which its capacity for protection has been reduced by 75 percent over the course of this research.

This project considers how the problematizing of asylum seekers has eroded the refugee determination regime in North America as situated within unprecedented levels of forced displacement globally. The accumulating deficiencies of the US asylum system, in particular, have led both the US and Canada to fail to meet their obligations to international standards of protection under the application of the STCA. This is a distinct concern in consideration of the way in which the annulment of TPS under the Trump administration has swelled the ranks of vulnerable populations in need of protection within the US. While the deteriorating conditions of the US asylum system simultaneously produce and criminalize populations in need of protection, Canada seeks to reduce and deter access to their own asylum system. I explore how the intersection between the annulment of TPS and the antecedent conditions of the STCA act to generate the legal and geopolitical environment that produces and structures this particular contemporary migration event.

“Vermont Service Providers’ Perceptions of Resettled Refugees’ Nutritional Needs and Related Resources”

Author: Sonia Zaccheo (2018)


Within the last fifteen years, research on post-migration dietary changes and providers’ perceptions of resettled refugees’ nutrition needs and related barriers has grown significantly. In the absence of research that examines comprehensive networks of food and nutrition services or that focuses on providers’ self-assessment of their programming and network services, this research asks three main questions: What kinds of food and nutrition-related programs, services, and resources are available for resettled refugees in Chittenden County, Vermont, and how do they fit together as a network food and nutrition education and security? How do providers of these programs perceive the food and nutrition needs of the resettled refugee populations they cater to? What are the strengths and limitations of the various programs currently offered and how could things be improved? Through an ethnographic study of food and nutrition service providers in Chittenden County, Vermont, this thesis project offers an understanding of the various food and nutrition resources on offer for resettled refugees, themes in providers’ perceptions of resettled refugees’ nutrition needs, and a detailed discussion of where services are succeeding, struggling, and where there areas for potential improvement. In light of these findings, I make suggestions for the future of nutrition and food service provision in Chittenden County.

“The Association Between Post-Migration Stressors in Refugee Mothers, and Infant Development: Do Maternal Depressive Symptoms Play a Role?”

Author: Jordan Weith (2017)


The current study examined the association between the post-migration stressors refugee mothers experience and infant cognitive and social-emotional development. Maternal depressive symptoms were also examined as a mechanism that could potentially explain this association. This specific project was part of a larger study pertaining to refugee mothers and infant development. Participants were recruited by interpreters and included 40 refugee mothers and their infants, aged 4 months to 12 months. Mothers reported on the post-migration stressors they have experienced, their depressive symptoms, and their infant’s social-emotional development. A standard cognitive assessment to evaluate infant cognitive development was also administered. Findings indicated that post-migration living difficulties and infant development were not associated directly or indirectly through maternal depressive symptoms; however, post-migration living difficulties and depressive symptoms were associated. This study is the first study to examine the relationship between maternal post-migration stressors in refugees and infant development. The findings suggest that post-migration stressors may be related to depressive symptoms in refugee mothers, which illustrates the importance of focusing on post-migration factors in clinical settings. Further research should be conducted to evaluate the relationship between post-migrations stressors and infant development.

“Fictions of Belonging: ‘New Arrival Literature’ and Contemporary Discourse on US Immigration”

Author: Olivia Langley (2017)


In the past two decades, “New Arrival Literature” has generated wide acclaim and a rich body of literary criticism. This genre of literature, written by immigrants who have themselves migrated, is becoming increasingly popular in a time of dominant currents of anti-immigration sentiment. My thesis explores this genre of fiction in the context of contemporary debates on immigration in the United States. In particular, this paper looks at three dominant myths about U.S. immigrants— that they drain the economy, are unwilling to assimilate, and bring crime. The novels in my study— Americanah (2013) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Need New Names (2013) by NoViolet Bulawayo, Claire of the Sea Light (2013) by Edwidge Danticat, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2008) by Junot Díaz, The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf (2009) by Mohja Kahf, and The Namesake (2003) by Jhumpa Lahiri— offer more holistic narratives about immigration and supplement material facts about its impact on the United States. Placing these novels in their socio-historical contexts, I explore the diverse immigrant experience and restore complexity to the oversimplified debate. My thesis also reveals how reductive, anti-immigrant stereotypes are part of the broader myth of “American Exceptionalism.” These authors, through their lived experiences and works of fiction, counter these myths by offering more human and complex narratives of migration.

“The Emerging ‘Immigrant-Friendly’ City: How and why cities frame themselves as welcoming places to immigrants”

Author: Erika Shepherd (2016)


Despite the media’s controversial and largely negative portrayal of immigrants and refugees in American society, a growing number of cities have been attempting to attract and support immigrants and refugees through various welcoming initiatives. These cities increasingly seek to be designated as “immigrant-friendly” in various ways and for distinct reasons. Cities often undertake welcoming initiatives as an urban regeneration strategy, often to promote economic revitalization, although in some cases this reasoning has been refuted and critiqued. There is no comprehensive definition for the immigrant-friendly designation, in part, because the criteria are specific to each city’s strategies to attract and support immigrants and refugees. In order to research the ways in which cities frame themselves as immigrant-friendly, I explore this phenomenon on a national, regional, and local level. The national scale analysis looks at broad trends in the demographic and economic characteristics of cities designated as immigrant-friendly. The regional scale analysis focuses on post-industrial cities of the Rust Belt, using three exemplary cities: Dayton, OH; Indianapolis, IN; and Utica, NY. Finally, I focus on Dayton, Ohio as a local scale case study, with an expanded investigation of welcoming strategies to provide insight into the grounded realities of implementing immigrant-friendly policies. Using a mixed-methods approach, this project explores which cities frame themselves as immigrant-friendly, why cities seek the immigrant-friendly designation, what their goals are in doing so, and what tools they use to define and justify their designation as immigrant-friendly.

“The Spatial Politics of Refugee Resettlement in Burlington, Vermont”

Author: Sammie Ibrahim (2016)


The United States has received refugees under a formal refugee resettlement system for decades, but in the last fifteen years, local receiving communities have struggled to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse refugee population. These issues have raised a number of moral and practical dilemmas over how to best resettle refugees to promote long-term integration. Through a spatial lens, this thesis broadly examines how the ways in which refugees are resettled at the national level affects local communities using Burlington, Vermont, as a case study. I analyzed meeting notes from local refugee resettlement consultation meetings, conducted semi-structured interviews with local and national stakeholders, and examined quantitative resettlement data to identify how the structure and decision-making of resettlement at the national level impacts the effectiveness of local refugee resettlement programs. By doing so, this project seeks to understand the challenges and obstacles, as well as the successes and best practices, in refugee placement and reception in the U.S.

“Imaginative Geographies of the Old North End: A Qualitative Mapping Venture” 

Author: Meraz Mostafa (2015)


The Old North End is a relatively small neighborhood in Burlington, Vermont. It is historically known for its high rates of poverty and more recently its ethnic and racial diversity. Yet even in this small neighborhood, tucked away in a small city like Burlington, there are a myriad of ways the place is imagined, experienced and understood, as well as evidence of various forms of spatial contestation and urban change. My research question in this study is: • What are the myriad of ways the Old North End is imagined, understood and experienced by residents of the neighborhood? Two related questions are:

• How do processes associated with gentrification function in the neighborhood in regards to spatial imaginaries?

• How does refugee resettlement affect spatial imaginaries of the Old North End?

This is a qualitative study that uses a mix of online surveys, written observation, photo documentation, archival research, and relevant census data to enact a discourse analysis of the neighborhood. The data I collected consists of a wide range of survey responses, photographs and written notes about the neighborhood, a collection of local newspaper articles about the Old North End, and various maps reflecting census data. My research suggests that gentrification acts as a useful framework to understand urban change in the neighborhood. Most residents point to particular processes associated with gentrification, such as rising rents, yet do not use ‘gentrification’ as a holistic frame to understand change. Moreover, the cultural contestation reflects normative processes of gentrification beginning with the presence of a counter-cultural discourse, followed closely by the presence of young professionals who ultimately complete the gentrification. These processes are chaotic and, while there are processes at play that seek to transform the neighborhood into a middle-class hub, we should understand gentrification as a nuanced process occurring in the Old North End. My research also found that community and community-building were important values in the Old North End, however, there were specific imaginaries of who was included in these communities and who was not. Finally, my study suggests further research is needed to understand the interactions of gentrification and refugee resettlement in the neighborhood. The Old North End is a dynamic, transforming neighborhood and I have spent the last few months documenting in the depth the various ways different ways spatial imaginaries inscribed themselves onto the landscape of the neighborhood as well as in how residents practice the space. Ultimately, my own positionality in the Old North End reveals how the multiplicity of spatial imaginaries are bounded and situated in one’s own experiences. My hope is that this research provides a snapshot of the various imaginaries and contestations currently at play and provokes conversation about the future of the Old North End in Burlington, Vermont.

“Service Providers’ Perceptions of Refugees’ Needs, Services and Service Delivery Barriers in Burlington, Vermont.”

Author: Samantha Sawyer (2015)


This thesis investigates the behavioral, mental health, and social service needs of the refugee community in the Burlington area, and the services available for them. I explore what these services entail and how the various providers who work with the refugee community in the Burlington area provide these services based on the provider’s perceptions of the community’s behavioral, mental health, and social service needs. My research focused on seeking an understanding of how local service providers determine what services to provide to support the refugee community’s needs, as well as how providers think the refugee community perceives and uses theses services. This thesis examines what the providers believe works or does not work well to meet the refugees’ needs, as well as perceived barriers to and gaps in meeting these needs. Based on data I collected through ethnographic research, participant observation, and interviews, I also describe similarities and differences among the providers. In conclusion, I identify potential strategies for overcoming the perceived barriers and gaps.

“The Geopolitics of Forced Migration and Humanitarianism: A Critical Geopolitics Perspective”

Author: Oakley Clark (2013)


Forced migration today is broadly characterized as occurring due to three different coercive mechanisms: Violent Conflict, Economic Development Projects and Environmental Change. Despite the fact that these three forms of forced displacement demonstrate very similar outcomes (human right’s violations, homelessness, landlessness and statelessness of socioeconomically and politically marginalized groups), humanitarian responses to them are never consistent. By taking a critical geopolitics perspective this thesis argues that geopolitics – the primacy of borders, the competing hegemonic relations between and within nation-states, the political economy of a globalizing world – is the driving force behind both the genesis of all forms of forced migration and the deployment of humanitarian protection and intervention. The way in which the world is most commonly understood as a set of spatially distinct, sovereign political units called nation-states has a profound effect on the genesis of and responses to forced migratory flows. Taking a critical geopolitics perspective, I examine a number of contemporary diasporic migrations that have been caused by Conflict, Development and Environmental Change to make my case. Then I argue that the causal taxonomy utilized to distinguish the three different forms of forced migration is unnecessary as they are all, at their root, forms of ‘geopolitical displacement’. I conclude by proposing that a global, humanitarian governing body that protects the rights of all forcibly displaced migrants should be enacted as our current system (i.e. the Global Refugee Regime) based in the conceptualization of world as distinct, sovereign states deals poorly with human rights protections of the displaced.

“A Comparative Analysis of Two Burlington Farmers Markets”

Author: Holidae Filkins (2013)


This paper compares two farmers markets situated approximately one mile apart, the Burlington Downtown market, located in the center of downtown Burlington, and the Old North End Market, located in a park in the middle of the most diverse neighborhood in all of Vermont. The purpose of my research was to understand how the location of a market determines the market goals, the population that has access to the market, and what affects the market’s ability to produce a profit. By determining the goals, accessibility, and profitability of the markets I was able to assess different ways in which these farmers markets serve as an alternative, local, food system for residents of Burlington. It also allowed me to evaluate whether they help improve food justice for people of low-income with little access to fresh and healthy foods. Through observations at the two markets, interviews with six vendors and two market managers, and a review of the literature on the two markets I determined that despite the proximity of these two markets, they serve entirely different purposes, and people. Additionally, I found that the downtown Burlington market did not help to promote food justice but rather is increasingly serving Burlington as a place of leisure, where customers are likely to seek out prepared foods or crafts as opposed to agricultural products. Furthermore, while the Old North End Market works to fulfill one aspect of improving food justice by providing affordable, fresh, and quality food to a low-income community, it failed to achieve other aspects significant to the discourse around food justice.

“New Farms for New Americans: Incubator Farm Programs, Economic Self-Sufficiency and Grant Dependency”

Author: Julia Panopoulos (2013)


Conventional agriculture has been heavily critiqued for its environmental and social impacts. In response, there has been a surge in alternative agriculture and more sustainable initiatives. While the demand for sustainably produced foods continues to grow, so does the need to train farmers in these new farming methods. One of the most useful and successful ways to do this is through an incubator farm model, which trains new or beginning farmers in order to help them establish their own agricultural business enterprise. One particular population within incubator farm programs in the United States is recently resettled refugees, who have agricultural backgrounds, but lack the resources to begin farming in the United States. The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) has many programs focused on refugees achieving economic self-sufficiency by means of creating agricultural entrepreneurs. For example, the Refugee Agricultural Partnership Program (RAPP) provides grants, predominantly to nonprofits involved with refugees and agriculture. Given the nature of nonprofits, they tend to gravitate towards large federal funds at the expense of diluting their original mission.

This research was a case study on one nonprofit incubator farm program, New Farms for New Americans (NFNA), which is located in Burlington, Vermont. NFNA serves refugees resettled in the state and has been funded largely by two RAPP grants since 2007. In order to determine if the RAPP grant had influenced NFNA’s mission, the responses from the pre-existing farmer exit surveys, conducted by Professor Pablo Bose, about the farmers motivations for participating and hopes for the future of the program were compared with the reoccurring themes in the RAPP Funding Opportunity Announcements. This thesis critically analyzed the economic self-sufficiency model and determined if it was appropriate or effective within the NFNA refugee farmer participants.