Debra Rodman, Ph.D.
In spring 2008, Professor Debra Rodman, Ph.D. (anthropology and women’s studies)
taught “Gender and Transnational Migration,” a course designed to incorporate service
learning and community collaboration by matching students with opportunities for
civic engagement. Randolph-Macon students worked as mentors, ESL (English as a Second
Language) instructors and tutors as they assisted recently-arrived Burundi refugees
in integrating to the United States. Burundi is a small, war-torn country in Africa.
The course, which is offered every spring, included content on immigration and refugees
and applied sociological and anthropological field methods such as participant observation,
field notes and critical analysis. “It was like a mini Study Abroad experience,”
said Megan Waninger ’08. “It seemed as if each time we visited with a family we
were entering a different world. The course afforded us the opportunity to learn
with the refugees, as opposed to learning about them.”
Rodman, a cultural anthropologist and expert on Central American migration to the
United States, feels fortunate to have taught a course that allows students to engage
in service learning. “The course gives students the opportunity to understand the
experiences of refugees and migrants whose lives are shaped by U.S. and international
policy, and their real-life struggle to integrate in U.S. society—in particular,
Richmond, Virginia,” she says. Rodman also teaches Peoples of Latin America, Cultural
Anthropology and a course on transnational migration of Guatemalan indigenous peoples
to the United States. She has taught at Randolph-Macon since 2004.
Students traveled weekly to their assigned families and individuals in the Richmond
area. Several groups of students worked with a newly-arrived family from Burundi
that had spent years living in refugee camps in Tanzania. Students were responsible
for different aspects of integrating the family into American life. Several students
took ESL training and provided tutoring services. Other students were engaged in
youth mentorship and assisted teenagers in coping with the challenges of teenage
life. Still others were in charge of helping a family learn to budget their money
and shop at U.S. supermarkets.
The Refugee and Immigration Services (RIS) of Richmond coordinated some of the service
learning projects in which R-MC students participated. Lisa Pedraja, volunteer coordinator
for RIS, was impressed by the students’ enthusiasm and dedication to the project.
“R-MC’s volunteers were the best I’ve ever worked with,” said Pedraja. “They found
innovative ways in which to help families assimilate, while at the same time teaching
them to be self-sufficient.” Pedraja thanked the students for their efforts, saying,
“You have exceeded my expectations in your commitment, compassion and creativity.
We are grateful for each one of you and I look forward to working with R-MC students