Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type

Open Access Thesis



First Advisor

Jennifer Reynolds


Employing a Foucauldian inflected analytic framework, I examine how youth resettled in and around Unity, NC, ambivalently managed racializing discourses associated with being ‘refugee’ as they pursued access to higher education (HE). Like many scholars who are drawn to post-structuralist concepts, I understand ‘discourse’ to be a form of knowledge and power, which operates through institutions implicated in advancing forms of self-government. In my video-conferenced interviews with youth they revealed cogent interpretations of the many ways these different U.S. governmental (and some non-governmental) institutions operated in their lives as “the System.” In the particular case of refugee youth, they used the expression as a short-hand label to refer to all the agencies in charge of maintaining U.S. sovereignty through the monitoring of populations of people that seek to move through them. When the populations are displaced and mobile people, they are subjected to the racializing logics of immigration policies, which can intensify the marginalization that youth face, as well as neglect the importance of their lived experiences. In order to feel seen by “the System,” these youth expressed the pressure they felt to perform as what social scientists call neoliberal, citizenship-striving subjects, when expected to act as cultural educators to their US citizen peers. The individualization of these pressures operated simultaneously through particular interactions within networked institutional settings. As such, they formed interlocking social and temporal scales. The exploration of my research adds to existing literature by demonstrating the limits of African refugee youth’s access to higher education (HE) in the U.S. Southeast, requiring the assistance of programs such as the African Diasporic Youth Development (ADYD) to navigate “the System.” These claims are supported by virtual ethnographic research conducted in partnership with ADANC’s, ADYD program participants and staff enlisting the methods of modified participant observation, content and narrative analysis, and Photo Elicitation (PE). This is a modified Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) study which centralizes on African diasporic community building. This research was carried out in collaboration with refugee youth ages 16-21 from a variety of countries of origin including, Eritrea, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), South Africa, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and Afghanistan. This research has revealed, across examples of many lived experiences of refugee youth that they cannot be resistant to “the System” without first being actively engaged in performing contra to every script of damning discourse surrounding the socio-political label of “refugee” - they must understand “the System” in order to reform it.


© 2021, Fallon Puckett

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