From Fluffy to Firm, and Back

By Juliette de Wolfe*

For several years before entering the PhD program in Anthropology and Education at Teachers College, I worked in an elementary school as a special education teacher.  I’ve often since referred to this as the “fluffy” world I lived in.   We started sentences with “I’m sorry, but…,” “I don’t know if this makes any sense, but…,” and “Tell me if I’m wrong, but…”, and I say “we” because I did it too.  As a woman, working in a profession dominated by women, communication was indirect, hesitant, and even nervous.  I had become accustomed to this and had a rude awakening when I began my doctoral studies.

I realized about two weeks into the two-year long colloquium at Teachers College that no one in the room cared about what I felt.  They were interested in what I thought, and how I came upon that thought, and what evidence I could use to back it up.  I would take the N train back to my tiny apartment in Queens, NY each Thursday evening after class had finished, licking my wounds and thinking about how nasty, cold, and un-fluffy the experience had been.  There is no feeling in that room, I thought – just stone-cold performance and judgment.  But as we all must in our lives, I adapted.  I began to understand the dance, and to even tap along to the beat once in a while.  By the end of the second semester I was less shy in colloquium and enjoyed the conversations for the lingering stimulation they provided.  On my subway rides home, I eventually spent less time licking wounds, and more time thinking about what my fellow students had presented, and how they had challenged my ideas.

The big break-through for me came in my second year of colloquium.  A male student was presenting his plans for summer fieldwork and I saw major gaps in his methodology.  It seemed as though the day-to-day activities of his fieldwork had not yet been thought through, and I found this extremely problematic.  I raised my hand to ask him, in essence, what he actually planned to do in the field everyday.  As I formulated my question though, I felt my own hesitancy.  My words were flip floppy, and I said things such as “I’m sure you’ve already figured this out, but…,” and “I’m sure it’ll be great, but…,” when it fact I meant the exact opposite.  I meant, “I don’t think you have figured this out at all.  I think you need to come up with a better plan.  And at this point, I don’t think it’ll be great.  I think it’ll be a disaster.”  After I finished stammering through my weak interrogation, a female professor seated next to me, leaned over and told me never to apologize for my questions.  She said that as women we tend to do this, but we shouldn’t.  We have every right to ask assertive questions and demand answers.  I think about that advice often.

Three years later, and with a PhD in hand, I’ve returned to the “fluffy” world.  I’m back in an elementary school setting where (generally) women sit in meetings and still apologize for their questions, their answers, their space in the room.  But I don’t do this anymore, and it makes me stand out.  Just a few weeks ago I was in an English/Language Arts (ELA) planning meeting, where we were discussing quarterly standards.  I posed a question regarding measurement of one of the standards to the ELA coach.  She responded by talking around my question for several minutes floundering through her answer.  This is a smart woman who knows the ELA standards inside and out, but her answer did not reflect her knowledge.  As she wrapped up her answer, her volume began to peter out and she repeated a couple of her points unnecessarily.  She then ended by saying, “I’m not sure I’ve answered your question, but…” and trailed off.  I responded simply, “No, you have not answered it, but I’d be happy to repeat my question.”  She blushed and the attention of the other teachers seated in little tiny chairs around the kidney bean shaped table volleyed back and forth between the coach and me.  This time, I rephrased the question, asking for a yes or no answer, followed by an example of how we would or would not effectively assess said standard.  The coach provided a clear and thoughtful answer, and the conversation moved on to the next item of business.  In that moment though, I realized that the firmness I tried so hard to develop in my PhD program was not practiced in this new space, and perhaps was not even welcome.

I now walk a fine line between demanding real answers to my real questions, and fitting in with the otherwise “fluffy” talk that permeates the culture of elementary school communication.  I doubt I will ever be able to fully return to that place of hesitancy where I was ashamed of my ideas and my space in the room, and yet I also need to be respectful of my colleagues’ feelings and ways of expressing themselves.  Moving forward, I hope that I’m able to provide to my colleagues the professional instruction and personal kindness that my professor showed me that day in colloquium.  I recognize that my colleagues may continue to apologize for their thoughts and ideas, but I see a profound value in reassuring them that there is no need to shirk away from their comments, and that this does our important work as educators no good.  And that is something for which I will never apologize.

*Juliette de Wolfe is a graduate of the PhD programs in Anthropology at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Refugee education in Kenya: Language and encampment policies

By Meredith Saucier*

The focus of my group’s research has been the quality of refugee education in Kenya, both in the urban Nairobi context and at Kakuma refugee camp, keeping in mind two key government policies that affect education quality: the language policy and the refugee encampment policy. As part of this research, we also analyzed data from an IRC-led study that included class observations and interviews with teachers, pupils, and key informants in Kakuma camp and Nairobi. The preliminary findings from this analysis revealed that many organizations are working to improve education quality at both the urban and camp levels, and that they simultaneously collaborate with the Government of Kenya (GoK) and also attempt to address the challenges that may stem from the GoK’s language and encampment policies.

In order to further the discussion of the organizations at work in Nairobi and Kakuma, I would like to introduce the language and encampment policies in Kenya. In brief, GoK’s language policy as outlined in the Constitution of Kenya is that Kiswahili and English are the official languages and should be taught in schools. As a result of this policy, English is heavily valued. GoK’s encampment policy as outlined in the Refugee Act of 2006 dictates that refugees should reside in camps and that they must be documented and registered. Though urban refugee settlement has been tolerated, the GoK’s policy is still one of refugee encampment.

Kakuma Refugee Camp

There are many organizations at work in Kakuma that maintain varied relationships with the GoK. First and foremost, UNHCR, as the international body mandated to work with refugees, is the only agency mandated to administer Kakuma. UNHCR has partnered with numerous organizations for program implementation at the camp level. These organizations include World Food Program (WFP), Windle Trust International (WTI), Lutheran World Foundation (LWF) and Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS). The latter 3 organizations (WTI, LWF, JRS) were frequently cited in our data as implementers of education programs in Kakuma.

WTI provides teacher training, scholarships, English language training including proficiency certification and TOEFL testing, and girls’ education promotion through programming and teacher recruitment. WTI is committed to partnering with UNHCR to improve the quality of education in Kakuma, and also meets monthly with other implementing partners and the GoK. The Department of Refugee Affairs and the MoE must also give permission to implement programs in Kakuma, keeping implementing organizations accountable to GoK policies.

JRS implements five programs in Kakuma, including for child protection, disability inclusion, English training for teachers, scholarships and online teacher education. The JRS makes it a goal to not duplicate programs in Kakuma and offers only services that other organizations are not, though they also collaborate with partners on some programs. As UNHCR is the managing agency at Kakuma, JRS implements according to UNHCR’s global education policy and also works closely with the GoK and its policies.

LWF was the original implementing organization in Kakuma prior to UNHCR’s absorption of operations. Currently LWF runs multiple programs in Kakuma, including a school meals program, scholarships, child protection, teacher training, inclusion activities, and supplies donation. They also operate several primary and secondary schools. LWF follows UNHCR’s education strategy as well as the GoK policies. LWF also works closely with the MoE and follows the Kenyan curriculum.


In the urban context of Nairobi, UNHCR is the primary agency providing services to refugees. UNHCR’s work in Nairobi is guided by the 2009 UNHCR Urban Refugee policy, which committed the agency to “examine, understand and respond to the needs of refugees living in the Kenyan capital”. UNHCR has been able to raise refugee student enrollment rates, coordinate with Nairobi NGOs and CBOs, build a system in which refugees and asylees can be documented and registered in urban areas, and has provided education services in urban schools, such as English classes.

The primary challenge of offering services in Nairobi as compared to Kakuma is that urban refugees are more dispersed, making it more difficult for UNHCR to locate and implement programs for potential beneficiaries. To accomplish their mandate, UNHCR has partnered with NGOs and the refugee community to improve UNHCR’s access and reach in the urban refugee community. One powerful example of UNHCR’s successful partner-building is a coalition the agency formed with the City Education Department that led to a spike in refugee enrolment at the primary level. UNHCR also convened two inter-agency working groups that advocated for refugees’ access to primary education and the completion of the Refugee Act of 2006. UNHCR has formed strong relationships with NGOs and CBOs in Nairobi, allowing them to offer services to hard-to-reach beneficiaries via their collaborative strategy.

Though UNHCR has been implementing the UNHCR urban refugee policy in Nairobi, and found support in the Mayor of Nairobi as well as other local government actors, the GoK has not formally endorsed the policy nor agreed to its implementation. In a 2011 review of UNHCR’s urban refugee policy implementation, however, it was noted that the Kenyan government seemed to be taking “a number of steps” that align with UNHCR’s policy which may signal a change of perception on the case of urban refugees in Nairobi. Though this is a positive sign, it cannot go unmentioned that in December of 2012 the Kenyan government released a renewed encampment directive ordering all urban refugees to relocate to refugee camps. The GoK suspended refugee and asylee registration following the announcement, and refugees reported police harassment and detention. Ultimately, the refugee community petitioned the directive and it was later rejected in Kenya’s High Court. Though this is a victory for urban and camp-based refugees alike, it remains to be seen how committed the GoK will be toward both protecting the rights of refugees and asylees in urban areas and working toward policies to ease the burden of the ballooning Kakuma refugee population, which surpassed its 100,000 person capacity in 2012 and continues to grow.

Across these urban and camp-based programs are common ties: a focus on English instruction, including teacher training so that teachers may effectively teach English to their refugee students, and particularly in Kakuma, a struggle to meet growing class sizes with both limited supplies and poor teacher to student ratios. These programs suggest that organizations are finding ways to salve the challenges of education provision that arise from GoK’s language and encampment policies, especially considering the challenges that come with implementing in Kakuma, a setting that was initially meant to be a short-term solution and is now moving into more than two decades of operation.

*Meredith Saucier is a Masters student in the International Educational Development program and a student in the Globalization, Migration, and Education Fall 2013 course.

Haitian migrants in Dominican Republic

By Kiran Jayaram*


My doctoral research examined the experiences of Haitian educational and labor migrants to the Dominican Republic.  I chose to study two distinct populations–Haitian university students and workers—in order to examine how class mediates migration experiences. More specifically, I considered how migrants live and understand their specific engagements with the state, market, and society across differences in race, class, gender, and citizenship.  Their actual experiences of incorporation belie neoliberal understandings that would posit a neat alignment of their lives along a vector indexing the market value of their skills. So, for example, in my article titled “Capital Changes,” published in Caribbean Quarterly, I challenge “the myth of Haitian homogeneity” and show how changes in the Dominican economy have provoked shifts in the migration flow, influenced the labor market insertion of Haitian immigrants, and incited changes in anti- Haitian sentiments in the Dominican Republic.

While my primary focus while enrolled at TC was completing my Ph.D., I engaged in several supplemental activities.  Since 2008, I have continued to work for the Workers Rights Consortium regarding issues of Haitian factory workers on the Dominican border.  After the 2010 earthquake, I was hired by the Earth Institute to conduct preliminary research for a major development project and to write a report on land tenure in post-earthquake Haiti (historical, legal, anthropological, conflict resolution, governmental, etc).

Upon returning from the field, I started other activities.  I began teaching an introductory cultural anthropology class and a survey course on world cultures.  Most significantly, I worked with the State University of Haiti’s Faculté d’Ethnologie and my TC colleague Scott Freeman to submit and secure a Wenner-Gren Institutional Development Grant to build a doctoral program of anthropology in Haiti.  Primary international partners are Teachers College and the University of Kansas, but we also have support of faculty from Harvard, Northern Illinois University, the University of Costa Rica, and other educational institutions across the globe.

Currently, I am working with an Amazonianist colleague to develop an NSF grant proposal for urgent research among Haitians living on the Peru-Brazil border.  Undertaking this project is absolutely dependent upon my ability to secure funding before August 2014.  In any case, my next research project, which I submitted as a Fulbright Flex Grant proposal for three years of short-term funding, concerns the economic, social, and cultural consequences of post-earthquake export mango production for Haitian cultivators.  In the more distant future, I will pick up the theme of the dissertation project that originally led me to study at TC:  the political economy and ideologies of literacy and numeracy in Haiti.

Kiran Jayaram is a PhD. Student in the Applied Anthropology Program at Teachers College, Columbia University


A Comparison of Actions toward Roma Inclusion in the European Union

By Chelsea Kallery

On June 29, 2000, the European Union (EU) adopted Council Directive 2000/43/EC, also called the Race Equality Directive (RED), with the goal of providing a legal framework for addressing issues of discrimination based on race or ethnicity. As it was a directive for the entire EU, complaints using it were to be taken to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), as opposed to any national courts.

On February 2, 2005, it was declared that 2005-2015 would be the Decade of Roma Inclusion in twelve countries in the European Union (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Spain.) This was a time to decisively and wholeheartedly address issues of discrimination that were present in each country, and with the guidance of the European Union, the countries would be able to develop policies and National Action Plans that would mirror one another, creating a standard for progress.

On April 5, 2011, six years after the start of the Decade of Roma Inclusion, the European Commission adopted the report entitled An EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies up to 2020. In this report, the European Commission requested that member countries prepare or revise their own national strategies to help achieve concrete goals for Roma inclusion by the end of December, 2011. The report called attention to four areas of disparity in European society: access to education, employment, healthcare and housing.

Together, these pieces of legislation could to be used to address the severe and constant discrimination faced by Roma people in many parts of Europe. Although they do provide an outline for action, their effectiveness is questionable at best. The report from the European Commission claims that specific action is needed to assist the Roma, but it does not actually present a path for countries to follow. For each of the four main areas of disparity, there are certain suggestions of focus. For example, to improve access to education, the priority is for Roma children to complete primary school. The Council of Europe states that it will train mediators to address discrimination in communities throughout the EU, that teacher training is important, and that early childhood education should be included. These are all rather vague assertions, providing the opportunity for wide variance of interpretation by each country.

In fact, that is exactly what happened. In Hungary, for example, kindergarten is mandatory, whereas the Czech Republic allows its citizens the options of either kindergarten or preparatory classes.

Additionally, simply because the EU released documents containing suggestions for action on issues of inequality does not guarantee that they will be followed or enforced. In her piece entitled, Segregation of Roma Children in Education: Addressing Structural Discrimination through the Race Equality Directive, Lilla Farkas outlines ways in which the RED can be used to assist Roma families. The second part is directed specifically at discrimination in schools. Her interpretation of the RED is thorough and would perhaps be helpful if it were distributed to and discussed with Roma communities. Being commissioned by the European Commission, the piece could even be translated and used by the mediators they mention in their Framework.

The role of the mediators is not clarified in the Framework. While one report on The Situation of Roma School Mediators and Assistants in Europe was released in 2006, and other information has been issued for the health sector, it is unclear what they have done since these projects took place, and whether or not all areas of focus have been sufficiently researched and addressed. (In January 2013, there was a meeting in Brussels to discuss the mediator program, ROMED. The meeting lasted roughly two days and discussions were two or three hours each.)

With the close of the Decade of Roma Inclusion fast approaching, it will be interesting to see how well the EU managed to achieve its goals in assisting the Roma people. While some independent projects have resulted in positive momentum, such as the Roma Mentor Project in Hungary, others are still in the discussion and research-gathering phase. It is not entirely surprising how slowly official developments have been made, especially considering how long it took the EU to provide any sort of guiding document to its member states on Roma inclusion. However, the lack of action does not indicate a change in societal temperaments toward the Roma people. The EU itself has much to do for the Roma. Now that the issue of discrimination is on the table, perhaps the EU can organize around some successful projects and disseminate successful models to other areas in need.

Chelsea Kallery is a Masters student in the Comparative and International Education program and a student in the Globalization, Migration, and Education Fall 2013 course.