Courtside Seats: Student Engagement with Central African Refugees Leads to Basketball Outing


After spending a semester working with African refugees in the Triangle, students in a French/Global Health class wanted to treat the men to a special evening at Duke. The result was courtside seats Feb. 25 for the Duke-Virginia Tech men's basketball game.

The class is part of "Voices in Global Health," a Cultures and Languages Across the Curriculum (CLAC) initiative at Duke. The French language course has a service-learning component in which the students collaborate with refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic, two countries currently experiencing internal military conflict.

The refugees were in camps in asylum countries of Rwanda, Chad, and Cameroon before coming to the United States. They are among the 50,000-100,000 refugees from the region that the UNHCR estimate will be settled in the United States over the next five to 10 years.  Many will be settled in Durham.

Professor Deb Reisinger teaches the course, which has students develop linguistic and cultural competencies through service projects that assist the Francophone refugee community in Durham. Joan Clifford directs the Community-Based Language Initiative at Duke in collaboration with the Church World Service, a refugee resettlement agency.

Student Tomas Gimenez approached the basketball team in hopes of getting tickets for three refugees. The visitors sat behind press row on the lower level for a close look at Duke's 66-48 victory.

Reisinger said the service component has been a valuable addition to the language instruction and she's hopes to expand the initiative to offer it as a full credit service-learning course.  It currently carries 1/2 course credit.