Emily Frazier, assistant professor of geography for Northwest, received a $30,000 grant from the Russell Sage Foundation to help with her research of refugee resettlement in the Midwest.
Frazier, who came to Northwest during the summer of 2020, is at the head of a research project named “Integration of Resettled Refugees in the U.S. Midwest” that compares resettlement centers in Des Moines, Iowa, and Lincoln, Nebraska. Frazier said her project is trying to see and compare what resettlement looks like in Lincoln and Des Moines. Most importantly, she said, the project additionally looks at how the resettled individuals experience integration once they arrive.
The University of Tennessee-Knoxville alumnus said this work was inspired from her dissertation work near Knoxville, Tennessee, and in Louisville, Kentucky. She has expertise in the southeast U.S. but not really any in the Midwest since she is still new to the region.
“I’m definitely interested in learning more about how that works in this region of the country,” Frazier said with a nod.
The Russell Sage Foundation is an organization that focuses on helping groups and individuals make living conditions for others better.
Refugees are a type of migrant, and they are generally ones who were forced to move due to persecution or other dangers. According to The Nation, there are more displaced people in the world today than there ever has been before. The article said that World War II displaced near 60 million people, and today there are nearly 80 million people who have been displaced.
“That’s crazy, and less than 1% of them ever get to be resettled,” Frazier said.
Frazier said she feels incredibly lucky to have received the grant from the Russell Sage Foundation since they have so many other funding priorities whether it be projects on homelessness, equality, immigration or refugees. She said she was glad her project could meet some of their broader goals.
“This project is really aimed at finding ways to improve integration outcomes,” Frazier said. “‘How can we make sure this program is working and is going to be beneficial for people in their communities?’”
Frazier said a $30,000 grant may sound like a lot of money, but for projects like hers, it gets used quicker than most would think.
“What a lot of people don’t realize is that research costs a lot of money,” Frazier said with a laugh.
Within her work, Frazier interviews, observes, surveys and visits the field workers to talk with others about what’s happening. Frazier said there are a lot of costs associated with doing that work.
Frazier said even the small things like a digital recorder and transcription costs can add up quickly. She has to make sure everything is transcribed, and some of the money can be used to have someone else do the transcribing.
Some of the money will be used for travel costs. Frazier plans on hiring a research assistant, which she said she hopes will be a Northwest student. As of now, Frazier is the only researcher on her project.
Some of the funds are used for a course buyout. Some of the grant money will go to the humanities department to pay someone else for her time while she is gone.
Frazier said she was inspired to do this work because during her graduate studies, the Syrian Refugee Crisis happened. She remembers everyone being scared after the terrorist attacks in Paris by people who posed as Syrian refugees. She also remembers people and politicians saying that the U.S. needs to keep refugees out.
“Refugees became sort of this political punching bag,” Frazier said.“They’re usually fleeing for their lives.”
Frazier said the situation sparked her interest in helping refugees. She wants to help protect them, while also creating ways to benefit them, the refugee program the U.S. has and the communities they go to. Frazier aims to solve how the country can have a refugee resettlement program that is responsible and have it in a way that responds to the needs of the world.
Integration is a word geographers and scholars use to describe how a migrant becomes part of society after they move from their original home, Frazier said. She uses this to show that she is looking at how refugees become part of their new communities and how they adapt to new employment, languages and cultures.
“Really, this project is looking at specifically in the context of the recent presidential election and that there have been a lot of changes directly affecting the U.S. resettlement program,” Frazier said.
According to the National Public Radio, prior to former President Donald Trump’s term, the U.S. was resettling 85,000 refugees a year. After Trump took office, that number dropped to 12,000 a year. Newly-elected President Joe Biden made a pledge to raise the cap of refugees to 125,000 a year.
Frazier said that resettlement of refugees is different from other forms of migration. Refugees don’t get to choose where they are placed and that national organizations work on the refugees’ cases to select the right spot to move them to.
There are still multiple factors that go into resettlement, and she said that one of the things they look for is if there is a large amount of one demographic in one area. If there is, they might be more inclined to put a person of the same ethnicity in that place.
Employment is a huge factor when it comes to what factors decide resettlement, and that is why there is an increasing amount of refugees in the Midwest recently because of how many opportunities there are, Frazier said.
“That’s a top-down decision, and individual refugees don’t get a lot of say in it,” Frazier said.
Frazier said one of her main goals is to try to shed light and give a better understanding of the program and its processes.
“Resettlement is very different than other forms of migration,” Frazier said. “It involves a lot of different organizations, a lot of different factors, and it happens in cities all across the country. The weird thing is it’s different in almost every city it happens in.”