Boise State Refugee Alliance
Anisha Rai, SVR volunteer interview with
Belma Sadikovic, Co-Founder and Outreach Director, Boise State Refugee Alliance
January 20, 2021
I interviewed Belma, the founder of Boise State Refugee Alliance, as well as a professor at Boise State University, in order to learn more about this initiative that supports refugee students on their college campus. She explained how her experience as a refugee shapes the work she does now, and shared her own brief background story, connecting that to her passion for her work. (She has given multiple TedTalks, sharing her journey as a refugee.) During the interview, we also touched on the term “refugee” and different interpretations behind it.
Belma provided many insights for how students on a college campus can support their refugee peers. One of the key recommendations was to join organizations on campus that provide resources to refugees. If such an organization does not exist, make one. She recommended finding a few other students with the same passion and starting small. Through that, students can expand their work and spread the word to more people. She also explained that students don’t need to create a formal organization focused on refugees. They can support organizations focused on minority groups more broadly or engage in more casual supports. This way they can connect with other students on the campus and help each other out. Another thing university officials can do is attend events related to refugees to learn how to better guide their refugee students. Because campuses can’t always identify which of their students are refugees, it can be difficult to identify who needs help. However, just having universities provide resources and support for minorities can be a step in the right direction.
During the last part of the interview, we really dove deep into the term “refugee.” As a refugee myself, I never liked that term. It makes me feel like people look down upon me or pity me whenever I tell them I am a refugee. I always tried to hide this part of my identity by covering it with different terms like “immigrant”, which I thought was more acceptable. When I asked Belma how she felt about the word “refugee”, she said she was in the same boat as me. The word seems to have a more negative connotation, but that is why we need to change it. She emphasized that it is essential for us refugees to speak up and use our success to show we are not weak. We are strong people who managed to start a new life and be successful despite our past and that is something to be proud of. However, she said there are a lot of refugees who also feel the negativity with the label. They think they can’t go to college or achieve their dreams because of the stereotypes that come with being a refugee. However, she said that us showing our success and encouraging them to do the same thing can help them believe in themselves.
After having that conversation with Belma, my view towards the word “refugee” is changing. I am definitely in the process of accepting that status completely, but I know it will take time. But talking to Belma about her experience and how we can help in higher education was encouraging. Seeing a refugee who is highly successful in her field makes me want to be like her. Then, I hope other refugees can have the same enthusiasm and start working towards their dreams without limiting themselves.
Meet SVR Volunteer,Anisha Rai
Anisha Rai, SVR Steering Committee Member.
Anisha Rai (She/Hers) is a first-year student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is planning to major in Political Science, but still exploring her options. For the past four years, she has been part of the GirlFoward community. She took part in many of their fundraising events, vocalizing what it means to be a woman and refugee in her community. She was also one of the first members to be part of the Girlforward Advisory Board. Through that program, she worked with her peers to bring a different perspective to the organization. Furthermore, she has also worked with Madonna Mission in which she tutored and led a summer camp program for youth refugees.