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Understanding others through storytelling

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Asha Aden (‘20) demonstrates the power of storytelling.

Asha Aden (‘20) demonstrates the power of storytelling.

Piper Wood (‘21) I Chips

Piper Wood (‘21) I Chips

Asha Aden (‘20) demonstrates the power of storytelling.

Piper Wood, Staff Writer

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Professor of Political Science Pedro dos Santos and Asha Aden (‘20) delivered the second of three lectures in the Paideia Lecture Series “Be the Change” on Feb. 27 in the Center for Faith and Life Recital Hall. The lecture was titled “What is to be done? Humanizing the Refugee Crisis” and focused on issues stemming from the wake of mass refugee immigration all over the world.

To begin the lecture, dos Santos spoke on the complexities of the Syrian refugee crisis. He explained basic information surrounding the Syrian civil war and refugee crisis. Dos Santos then analyzed the relationships between the United States, various militia groups, rebel groups, and government organizations in Syria, and how these forces combined to create the complicated conflict and refugee crisis. Dos Santos highlighted the importance of keeping the politics of the war separate from the humanitarian crisis caused by the large numbers of refugees fleeing Syria.

“It is important to understand the complexity of issues, and move away from the polarizing political dichotomies,” dos Santos said. “The Syrian conflict is one thing and helping the people affected by the conflict is a whole other thing.”

Aden went on to explain how the politics of the refugee crisis leads to the dehumanization of refugees. According to Aden, both pro-refugee and anti-refugee movements can dehumanize. Anti-refugee movements do this by using stereotypes.

“By emphasizing the differences and exploiting myths and lies about religious and cultural values of many of those fleeing conflict and natural disasters, those using this argument dehumanize refugees by positioning them as complete outsiders, unworthy of their help,” Aden said.

Professor of Political Science Pedro dos Santos explains the refugee crisis in Syria.

She went on to explain the misguided intentions of the pro-refugee movement that views immigrants and refugees as “superhuman.” According to Aden, to be “superhuman” they somehow have to be better than normal humans to avoid blame and hate. Aden explored the dehumanization of the refugees through the consequence of presenting refugees as innocent humans in need of help. 

“Altogether, good intentions can dehumanize refugees too,” Aden said. “The ways we talk about refugees and to refugees are important because it impacts the way people perceive refugees, shaping opinions and behavior.”

As a solution to the demonization and dehumanization of refugees, Aden proposed a sharing of refugee stories. Aden shared three refugee stories, including the story of her experience growing up the daughter of Somali refugees. Through the stories, Aden hoped to inspire action and understanding for the lives of refugees in America.

“Since both of my parents are refugees, it is an issue that is very near and dear to me,” Aden said. “I feel connected to it, and I am compelled to speak out about it.”

Audience member Katy Roets (‘18) appreciated the diversity of the stories that Aden told.

“I really liked that Asha showed stories of refugee women,” Roets said.

During the question and answer portion, Roets asked Aden about her experiences in the education system as a young child of refugees growing up in Rochester, MN.

“The first time I went to preschool, I did not speak English. It was a confusing, scary day for me,” Aden (‘20) shared.

Dos Santos and Aden offered ideas for audience members to become involved. They stressed the importance of being informed, reading diverse news outlets, and donating time and money to the organizations working directly with refugees, like the White Helmets, or Lutheran Services of Iowa. Moving forward, Dos Santos is optimistic that there is an international conversation happening.

Piper Wood (‘21) | Chips
Professor of Political Science Pedro dos Santos and Asha Aden (’20) lecture together on the refugee crises.

  “Having this conversation shows that people are caring for these issues and listening to it, and trying to make good decisions to solve it,” Dos Santos said. “Humans are taking the opportunity to help other humans.”

Aden is also optimistic about the future citizens in helping solve the refugee crisis.

“I have optimism in the people,” Aden said. “If the people push the government, they can make a change.”

The next lecture in the “Be the Change” series will be given by Assistant Professor of Art David Kamm and Professor of English Lise Kildegaard. The lecture will be titled “Turn and Face the Strange: Creative Activity as a Catalyst for Change,” and will take place March 20.

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