March 5, 2024
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Voices of Muslim refugees, Black mothers who lost children to violence drive research projects

CCPA doctoral students Rubayat Jesmin, Tanya McGee present separate research projects at a state Future Leaders in Policy (FLIP) Competition

At the heart of Rubayat Jesmin and Tanya McGee’s doctoral research projects are the lives of nearly two-dozen women and the way their experiences answer key questions about society.

To 15 Muslim women, refugees from Myanmar, Jesmin posed a question: Are there factors preventing them from seeking or obtaining employment?

To eight Black mothers who lost children to acts of violence, McGee posed another: Do they have access to resources that assist in them achieving true resiliency and how might other socioeconomic factors play roles in this?

Collecting these answers and insights has driven Jesmin and McGee, both doctoral students in the Community Research and Action program in Binghamton University’s College of Community and Public Affairs (CCPA), to affect change. Their separate research projects will be detailed April 29 at the Rockefeller Institute of Government Future Leaders in Policy (FLIP) Competition.

The annual competition affords State University of New York (SUNY) undergraduate and graduate students an opportunity to share research on public policy subjects with state leaders. Students are asked to detail the scale and scope of the issue and address why it should be a priority for policymakers, as well as describe specific suggestions or changes to policies or programs that state and local governments could implement based on evidence from their research.

“I’m so impressed that Tanya and Rubayat were awarded this opportunity. Both are engaged in such impactful and engaging research,” said Loretta Mason-Williams, director of the Community Research and Action program. “The FLIP competition helped them transfer their research findings to meaningful policy discussions and ultimately advocate for real change.”

Here is a closer look at their research:

Income for Muslim refugee women

Jesmin, an international student from Bangladesh and an economist by profession, became drawn into studying challenges faced by Muslim refugee women while working with the European Union delegation in Bangladesh.

“My research aim is to find out factors that influence disadvantaged, marginalized Muslim women’s decisions for economic empowerment and in what ways those factors facilitate or prevent them from achieving it,” Jesmin said.

“Once I identify the factors, I want to develop a framework that I hope can be used in different settings for women from similar strata. The female Muslim Rohingyas are a distinct group and some factors, which aren’t all on the surface, can really prevent them from achieving economic empowerment — a means to improve their lives.”

She turned to 15 Rohingya women who came to the U.S. and settled in Chicago. The Rohingya are a stateless ethnic minority that largely follows Islam and resides in Myanmar. Jesmin interviewed these 15 women to learn about what had prevented them from taking the opportunity for any income-generating activities in their own country and even after resettling in the U.S.

Was it their own qualifications or education? Was it limitations in their own community — policies or cultural practices? Or did the women simply not want to work?

“These women were affected by two major socio-political issues: one is their own government not recognizing them as nationals and not giving them educational and other opportunities. Second, is that cultural norms don’t allow them to do certain things,” Jesmin said. “But they have training and can develop skills and training in this country. This can lead to a source of income and to have a better life.”

How mothers face losing a child to violence

McGee, a doctoral student living in Elmira, is focusing on Black women who have lost children due to violence — shootings and stabbings in particular — and whether their neighborhood dynamics have contributed to their loss and trauma.

Most of these mothers have no idea what post-traumatic stress disorder is, McGee said, and not knowing makes it difficult to seek out the help a person might need. She asks, “Do you feel traumatized?”

The common response is “No.”

“Another finding has been that a lot of the mothers have never left the neighborhood they’re in, so they mostly grew up knowing the families of people who killed their child, the friends, everyone,” McGee said. “There’s a lot of generational poverty that I see, and the terrible thing is that a mother who loses her child could go to the gas station and run into the killer — if they haven’t received justice.”

One of the layers McGee has also explored is how negative social stigmas and racial stereotypes factor into these situations, such as whether the victim’s lifestyle might have contributed to their death.

Some of the Black mothers McGee has spoken to have found themselves entering advocacy roles for the first time and essentially feeling burdened with having to humanize their lost child and prove they were a good person to generate empathy among other people.

“It all comes down to the history of racism in our country’s policies, practices and institutions that have created the inequities that we witness in our neighborhoods,” McGee said. “We must also prioritize social and economic mobility, to give people a chance to become better connected.”

Posted in: Campus News, CCPA