This summer, Hollidaysburg Area High School graduates, Mikayla McCord and Mohammed Ali, have been working with the Saint Francis University Literature & Languages Department to conduct research on the Syrian refugee crisis. Dr. Roxana Cazan, assistant professor of English, and Harry Olafsen, English and history double-major, have been overseeing the project, which is funded by the Global Studies Center at the University of Pittsburgh.
Studying the Syrian refugee crisis (2014-present) from an American vantage point, the students have investigated the potential political power of Syrian-American hip hop music in fostering social justice and educating audiences on the consequences of totalitarianism, war, and terrorism, the difficulties in the lives of first- and second-generation immigrants, and the manifold cultural diversity of Syria. In exploring this topic, the students aimed to expose the harmful or provocative assumptions about Syrian immigrants and refugees in American popular culture, such as social media, films, news, videos, and advertisements, and to build advocacy for and awareness of the real issues at stake.
Throughout the course of the project, McCord and Ali have been conducting research in collaboration with their college mentor, Olafsen, under the direction of Cazan. They have been experiencing the process of gathering information, outlining a paper, writing collaboratively, offering peer-reviews, and revising writing. Not only will the students present their findings at an undergraduate research conference this academic year, but they will also submit a manuscript in hopes for publication in an undergraduate peer reviewed journal.
According to Cazan, the goal of the project was two-fold, as she hoped to engage college and high school students in academic research and foster social justice through academic output. She said achieving these goals will better equip the students to handle the college environment as they work collaboratively and understand research and writing as forms of academic activism and catalysts for their post-college lives.