De-Centering the Deficit Framework: Courageous Refugee Mentors in Educational Spaces

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The Urban Review

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This paper, which draws on an ethnographically informed case study, examines refugee mentors working directly with refugee students and families so they can successfully overcome challenges associated with adapting to a new, urban school culture. It highlights the ways in which the mentors and students negotiate educational contexts and structures not necessarily well suited to newcomers; it also reveals how the mentors create spaces where refugee students and their families experience a sense of belonging. Through additive practices, the mentors assist refugee students in forming a legitimized identity as an alternative to the racialized American models based on normative standards. The author argues that the mentors are best situated as “additive tempered radicals” who work within school district barriers to provide incremental equitable educational opportunities for refugee students. Recommendations include utilizing the practices of the mentors as templates for district-wide programs for all newcomer students.


This article was published in The Urban Review 53 (2021): 243–263. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11256-020-00579-7.