“But it’s Hard For a Refugee”: Transitioning to Postsecondary Literacy Practices After Forced Migration
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The global refugee crisis continues to set historic records—2018 opened with 68.5 million people forcibly displaced and a 54% drop in refugee resettlement worldwide (UNHCR, 2018a). The increasingly smaller portion of displaced people who find long-term resettlement often face economic downgrading and barriers to furthering their education. Research has shown that refugees hold high levels of aspiration for continued education (Brownlees & Finch, 2010) but globally only 1% access higher education (UNHCR, 2016). Given the unique educational trajectories of students in refugee contexts, it is important to understand how students with diverse language, literacy, and formal schooling experiences transition into college-level coursework; however, this perspective is almost non-existent in current research.
The purpose of this study was to learn about the literacy practices of refugee students as they studied in a connected learning postsecondary program. Using a collective case study, I examined the academic literacy practices of students from refugee backgrounds as they navigated the literacy expectations of a competency-based online connected learning program in the United States. I used semi-structured interviews, observations, and collaborative artifact analyses with six focal students to identify and interrogate literacy events that occurred within the academic context.
The findings revealed a range of practices that participants drew on to navigate the literacy expectations of the program. In the cross-case analysis, I generated four themes regarding navigating literacy expectations: Playing the game, alternatives to reading, advanced reading strategies, and social networks. In looking at the influence of forced migration, I generated four themes: Going fast, our way versus their way, disrupted plans and dreams, and shifting languages. Implications for developmental education, higher education, community colleges, and academic coaching are discussed.