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A First-Hand Look at Refugee Integration


Grant Kiefaber ’19, is spending most of his summer researching how Muslim refugees have integrated into the city of Utica, N.Y., near College Hill. So far finding people to interview has been a challenge, albeit a tasty one.

Among other things, Kiefaber is looking at the refugees’ economic impact on the city, an impact that includes restaurants with global cuisines. Kiefaber, hungry to meet people, has spent time in them.  “That’s just a really fun side project — eating all this authentic food,” he says.

about Grant Kiefaber '19

Major: Religious Studies

Hometown: Ann Arbor, Mich.

High School: Greenhills High School

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He’s a religious studies major who received an Emerson grant from Hamilton to dig into his interest in Muslim refugees. Hamilton’s geography lends itself to the topic. Utica has been a hub of successful refugee resettlement for decades. Kiefaber comes from Michigan, which is home to Dearborn, a city with a large population of Arab and Muslim immigrants and refugees and their descendants. Kiefaber’s familiarity with Dearborn was the genesis for his summer project.

Originally Kiefaber thought about researching Muslim refugees in Dearborn, but Abhishek Amar suggested that Utica’s proximity made it a better choice since this was Kiefaber’s first research project. Kiefaber is still shaping exactly where the project will go, learning skills along the way.

“Every day it’s a new thing, and it’s teaching me how to interview people, to just go interact with people that I don’t know. I’m sending emails, being professional, taking notes, writing up my notes from the day, and doing all those more or less basic necessities for the real word,” Kiefaber says.

Slowly and surely, he is making community connections. He’s dined with people as they broke their day’s fast during Ramadan and attended a World Refugee Day event, where new citizens told their stories during their naturalization ceremony. Each person he interviews leads him to more people, and learning from them all has been amazing, Kiefaber said.

He’s thinking his summer research may lay the foundation for his religious studies senior thesis. “I think it would be really cool if I could translate it over into going to Dearborn and getting that compare and contrast with research I’ve done,” he says.

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