Hello everyone! As we are gearing up for our trip to Tucson this upcoming Fall Break, we hope you have had the chance to sign up! We are also incredibly excited to announce that this Fall Break we will have a very special guest attending the trip with us.
When we head down to Tucson to serve with the International Rescue Committee (more to come on them soon!), we will be joined by Dr. Elizabeth Larson, a resident expert, and advocate for refugees. Below, please enjoy Dr. Larson’s bio and join us in welcoming her to Devils Spark Change!
Dr. Larson is a cultural geographer and teaches full-time a wide range of human, regional, and environmental geography courses at Arizona State University. Her early research was on the Central American refugee crises. Here area of study was Nicaraguan assimilation into Costa Rican society.
In the mid-late 1990s, after moving to Arizona, she shifted her focus and coordinated a two-year program, “Voices from Communities in Transition” for the
Arizona Humanities Council (AHC) (1995-1997). “Voices” won the distinguished Shwartz Prize awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, for excellence in public programming.
When the Arizona Humanities Council’s “Voices” program ended in 1997, Dr. Larson was hired by the City of Scottsdale to develop “Scottsdale Voices”, a citizen engagement program modeled after AHC’s ‘Voices’. In that capacity, Elizabeth facilitated public forums on issues relevant to city government and community life, and also consulted with the International City/County Managers Association (ICMA) conducting training workshops in Mexico on citizen participation strategies. In 1998 she was awarded the City Hall Communications Award of Merit for “Scottsdale Voices: Strengthening the Quality of Community Dialogue:, and the 3CMA (Connect, Communicate, Celebrate Marketing Association) Savvy Communications Award of Excellence for “Scottsdale Voices: Community Visioning Process.” In 2002, she was awarded the AHC’s Distinguished Public Scholar Award.
Since 2004, Elizabeth has taught cultural and human geography at ASU, where she is faculty in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. In addition, Dr. Larson continues to work with the Arizona Humanities Council on several Literature and Medicine series (St. Joseph’s Hospital and the VA Hospital in Phx) and has lead other Book Discussion series. She has been a member of AHC’s Speakers Bureau since 1997, and she has given dozens of talks throughout the state on Afghanistan; Arab-American Demography; the Cultural Geography of the Middle East; and Arizona’s Changing Demography.
We also took the opportunity to ask Dr. Larson a few questions so that we could get to know her a little better. Below is our conversation!
DSC: How did you first become interested in refugees?
Dr. Larson: I first became interested in refugees as a Masters student. I was searching for a topic for my Doctoral Dissertation, and someone suggested that I investigate Nicaraguan refugees living in Costa Rica. So, that’s what I did! I moved to Costa Rica in 1989 to live for a semester and study the Nicaraguans who had crossed into Costa Rica. Central America was full of refugees in the 1980s and early 1990s. My study looked at how the Nicaraguans were integrating into Costa Rican society and into the economy. Since then, I’ve had a keen interest in refugees and a special place for them in my heart.
DSC: Why should we know more about refugees?
Dr. Larson: Refugee populations are growing worldwide. Refugees are one of the most vulnerable demographic groups of any segment of the population. They’ve fled their homelands, often with nothing, often after losing loved ones in war or other conflict situations. They can languish in refugee camps for years, or they can be integrated into a neighboring country’s economy/society, or they may be resettled into 3rd countries (which most of the refugees in the US are). Sometimes, people enter this country or other countries with little or no knowledge of the country they are being resettled into. The hoops they have to jump through can be especially difficult because of language barriers, income levels, religious customs, and many other factors. In short, although they’re safe from the dangers of the place they’ve fled from, refugees have many obstacles to overcome.
DSC: What do you think is the biggest public misconception about refugees?
Dr. Larson: I think the biggest misconception about refugees is that they have easy access to this country or others, and can enter any time, and among them, there may be unsavory individuals who wish to do harm. While something like that possibly could occur, it is not the usual way for a terrorist to infiltrate a place. Refugees are scrutinized and vetted quite extensively before they can gain access to this country and other countries of resettlement.
DSC: Why are you excited about this trip?
Dr. Larson: I’m excited about this trip because I do hold a special place in my heart for refugees. I am a cultural geographer and people and places and cultures are what I love most. I love to share my experiences and knowledge of refugee groups with students. And, I’d love to meet more refugees and refugee groups and know more about Arizona’s refugee populations.
Thank you, Dr. Larson for investing your time and interest in Devils Spark Change and our mission this Fall Break! We are so excited for this trip with you.