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Are Young Refugees Staying in Utica?


Alexander Hollister '17, Hersheena Rajaram '19 and Patrick McConnell '17
Alexander Hollister '17, Hersheena Rajaram '19 and Patrick McConnell '17

Thousands of refugees have arrived in Utica over the past couple decades. One thing that’s unclear however is how many refugees, particularly youth, choose to stay.

This summer a Levitt Research Group is examining that question. Alexander Hollister ’17, Patrick McConnell ’19, and Hersheena Rajaram ’19, working with Professor of Economics Paul Hagstrom, are developing a survey for refugee youth in the Utica-Rome Metropolitan Statistical Area.

In addition to finding the retention rate of refugee youth in the Utica area, the group aims to explore the reasons why refugees choose to stay or leave. Many high school students, college students and recent graduates seem to want to leave, but their reasons are as of yet unclear. Hollister speculated that college graduates may want to remain in the area where they went to school. If they choose to return to Utica, it may be family ties that draw them back.

Rajaram noted that there can be significant differences in family expectations. One family the group spoke to wanted their children to stay in the community, while another was very supportive of their children leaving. These differences make it hard to predict what the final results of their survey will be.

The group has developed the survey as a two-year project. Currently, their primary goals are to develop an effective survey and to build connections with local refugees. They are studying previous research and news articles and attending community events to help them determine interview questions. Later this summer they plan to conduct a few interviews to test the survey, and next summer they will begin gathering in-depth results.

They are also using this time to make connections with the refugee communities in Utica. In particular they're forming ties with Bosnian and Karen refugees, two of the city’s largest groups. They are starting by creating connections with three local organizations: the Midtown Utica Community Center, On Point for College and the Bosnian Cultural Center. They have also been attending community events such as traditional dance performances and Ramadan celebrations. Through these efforts they are gradually forming connections with people both in Utica and outside of the city, who they will be able to interview next summer.

The group emphasized that it’s a gradual, snowballing process; one person can introduce them to the next, and so on. By the end of the summer the group hopes to have a solid group of connections. Then, next summer their survey will begin delivering insight into where young refugees choose to live and why.

Alex Hollister is a graduate of Johnstown (N.Y.) Senior High School; Hersheena Rajaram went to Dr Maurice Cure State secondary school (Vacoas, Mauritius); and Patrick McConnell is a graduate of Stuyvesant High School (Brooklyn, N.Y.).

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