One of the themes I have been thinking about lately is how administration either advocates, or doesn’t, for refugee students and how advocacy and relationships affects the public opinion of refugees. Realistically speaking, refugees make up a small number in Canada and yet the issue of their presence in Canada is highly politicized. Many people are unlikely to have had contact in person with Syrian refugees and this makes it easy for rumors and negative stereotypes to prevail. Since I have been thinking about this lately, the news story regarding a fight involving high school aged Syrian refugee students and Canadian students stood right out as an example.
If you haven’t heard about the story, you can read an account of it here: http://calgaryherald.com/news/local-news/video-of-fight-with-syrian-canadian-students-sparks-protest-at-alberta-school
In my opinion, the situation sounds pretty typical for a high school. Tensions ran high and a few fights broke out, and then everyone involved was punished. There was no preferential treatment of either refugee students or Canadian students. However, when a video of one of the fights got posted online the comments turned sour very quickly and misinformation spread. Protests were even held at the school, and that is the factor that required police presence. Those at the protest are reportedly not even linked to the school, meaning that it was not those wronged by the dispute, but rather those acting upon the rumors and wanting to make a scene.
What makes me happy to hear is that the administration of the school acted as advocates and the students within the school made moves toward deescalating the tension. The principal is on record setting the story straight and this is important. When newcomers enter a school it is crucial that there is attention paid to the public image and advocating for these newcomers who may not be given a fair rep. It is not fair to the general Syrian refugee population if the two Syrian students involved in the fights are suddenly heralded as the example of how this whole group acts. These students were not being treated as just teenagers making mistakes, but rather as cultural examples, all of the negative stereotypes and misinformation surrounding their situation was placed onto them, and by extension, all Syrian refugees.
Refugee students face many challenges because of their past. They bring with them language struggles, disruption in their identity and living situation, and trauma. On top of that, these students in question are attending high school, and time when we typically cut teenagers a bit of slack and expect them to make mistakes. Unfortunately, because of their highly politicized position, this altercation resulted in a wave of discrimination. As the administration and school did, it is important that those in the situation advocate for the refugee students and attempt to change the negative public opinion.
This article talks more about the reaction of the school: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/red-deer-muslim-protest-soccer-derek-turner-ursella-khan-1.4128771
I guess the main take-away from this is that while there are likely to always be people who are content to focus on negativity and spread rumors, whenever possible those Canadians who are in the position of having first-hand knowledge of Syrian refugees must work to advocate for the refugees in their schools.
Taylor, S., & Sidhu, R. K. (2012). Supporting refugee students in schools: What constitutes inclusive education? International Journal of Inclusive Education, 16(1), 39–56. http://doi.org/10.1080/13603110903560085
McCall, A. L., & Vang, B. (2012). Preparing preservice teachers to meet the needs of Hmong refugee students. Multicultural Perspectives, 14(1), 32–37. http://doi.org/10.1080/15210960.2012.646847
MacNevin, J. (2012). Learning the way: Teaching and learning with and for youth from refugee backgrounds on Prince Edward Island. Canadian Journal of Education, 35(3), 48–63.
Stewart, J. (2017, March). A culture of care and compassion for refugee students: Creating a state of nhân đạo. Education Canada. Retrieved from http://www.cea-ace.ca/education-canada/article/culture-care-and-compassion-refugee-students