University of Vermont

College of Education and Social Sciences

Doctoral Programs in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

Vincent M. Mugisha: Engaged African Refugee Youth Negotiating Schooling in the United States of America: An Inquiry into the Influence of Culture and Social Structure (2014-02-24)

Mugisha, Vincent M. | Memorial Lounge, Waterman Building | 2014-02-24 | 11:45am

This research explored the interculturally constructed scholastic engagement of six ethnically diverse African refugee youth at a high school in a small Northeastern city in the United States (U.S.). The study aimed to understand the refugee students’ realities of straddling betwixt and between African and American macro-cultural milieus and how these realities shaped their scholastic engagement. The study also investigated how three African female refugee youth (of the six participants) navigated the gender-based intercultural complexity that contextualized their schooling in the U.S. The specific purpose was to understand the strategies that these young African women had to develop in order to transcend intercultural complexity and remain academically engaged. The ultimate purposes of this research were to synthetize conceptual perspectives in the literature and theorize about how these refugee youth transcended constraining intercultural and structural forces to remain academically engaged.

Using ethnographically contextualized case study methodology (ECCM), this study examined the participants’ processes of acculturation and adaptation to schooling in the U.S. It investigated the participants’ perceptions of the African and American cultural milieus that they straddled as refugee adolescents in the U.S. It further examined the role of pre-resettlement social circumstances in East African refugee camps, home cultural influences, and parental scholastic expectations in shaping the participants’ scholastic engagement.

Data analysis generated complex findings, which suggested that the resilience and optimism of the refugee youth about the promise of U.S. schooling in tandem with community-wide support produced agency, which enabled them to transcend the countervailing forces in schooling. This phenomenon was conceptualized in this research as agentic scholastic engagement (AES). The findings also suggested that the female refugee adolescents, in comparison to males, demonstrated agency and a considerable degree of intercultural competency, which were conceptually juxtaposed in this research as agentic intercultural competency in schooling (AGICS). Finally the findings suggested that AES and AGICS were critical for these socially disadvantaged adolescents to maintain high levels of scholastic engagement in the face of intercultural complexity. Therefore this research suggests that the AES and AGICS concepts hold much promise and warrant further research, particularly action/intervention research aimed to empower community-wide actors to enhance the scholastic engagement of African refugee youth and other at-risk students in intercultural settings where Whites remain the dominant social-cultural group.


Keywords: African youth, agency, intercultural competence, scholastic engagement, and social structure.

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