TU program helps high school youths share their refugee story

December 6, 2019

TU art event will showcase partnership with Baltimore City school.


On December 7, Towson University will host an art opening to celebrate the work of a unique partnership between TU graduate students enrolled in the M.A. in Interdisciplinary Arts Infusion and refugee high school students who attend Patterson High School in Baltimore.

The 11 a.m. exhibit in the Center for the Arts 2nd Floor Atrium is called "You Are Who I Love: The Art of Gratitude with Refugee Youth."

With the hopes of shedding light on a dynamic group of young people who are too often limited to the single story of “refugee,” the culminating artwork embraces both image and text to offer visitors a more nuanced and complex view of young refugees living in Baltimore by sharing the stories, self-reflections, and expressions of gratitude of this dynamic group of collaborators.

This service-learning course involves a partnership where graduate students work collaboratively with both the BCCC Refugee Youth Project (RYP) and Patterson High School, where RYP offers afterschool programming for refugee students ages 14 to 20. This learning laboratory creates mutually beneficial opportunities. Refugee youth explore and invest in topics that are meaningful to them while simultaneously providing teachers with instant feedback on their new arts in action curriculum and practices.

This is the culmination of a unique eight-week collaborative arts project where the graduate students, mostly public school teachers and teaching artists, work side-by-side as artistic collaborators with refugee youth to support English acquisition and social adjustment.

One former graduate student from Palestine described her experience saying, “We were not student and teacher. We were students and students together. It was an amazing way of interacting with each other through ideas, language and cultures.”

Each week, the group uses interactive theatre games, creative writing exercises, visual art activities and more to share stories, practice communication, and build relationships. This is the third year in a row that TU has engaged in this dynamic partnership called YAAAS! (Youth Artists and Allies taking Action in Society) directed by Towson University Assistant Professor Kate Collins.

YAAAS! is a graduate course designed and taught as an elective for students—the majority of whom are working teachers in PK-12 schools or people who work with youth in other educational settings or capacities—in the M.A. in Interdisciplinary Arts Infusion program. YAAAS! was initiated in fall 2017.

The emphasis this Fall has been folding in more creative writing to extend students’ practice with English.

"One of our main activities focused on expressions of gratitude for the people in our lives and society whose efforts too often go unseen or unappreciated," Collins said. "Our inspiration was the poetry of Eritrean American poet Aracelis Girmay, whose poem, You Are Who I Love, we chose to collectively adapt. Several of our youth participants are from Eritrea originally, so the poem holds special meaning, but we also knew that these thoughtful young people have a particularly unique perspective on the subject of gratitude."

It is made possible through a BTU investment. BTU priority and emerging investments represent a significant cultural shift to sustain, scale, align, and institutionalize community engagement at Towson University.

This story is one of several related to President Kim Schatzel’s priorities for Towson University: TU Matters to Maryland and BTU-Partnerships at Work for Greater Baltimore.