U Student Film Features Refugees Across the Valley


Students attend the film screening at the Social Work Building at the University of Utah on Aug. 17, 2019. (Courtesy of Peter Johnston.)


A student film entitled “Refugee Voices” featuring student refugees and their stories of migration held its premiere Aug. 17 at the University of Utah College of Social Work. The film was part of an exhibit showcasing the refugee experience of coming to the United States.

(Courtesy of Peter Johnston)

The film and accompanying exhibit are the results of Praxis Labs, a type of two-semester course available through the U’s Honor College. Students can select one of four Praxis Labs courses open to them in order to learn more about a featured subject.

“’Refugee Voices’ is all about connecting people,” said Peter Johnston, one of the film’s collaborators. “While their experiences are totally unique, anyone can find similarities to their own lives.” He also said the film helps to break the stereotype of refugees as victims.

Johnston, along with Erik Fronberg, Lily Ellingson, Gabrielle Zweifel, Emma Ker, Katie Garff, Elizabeth Izampuye and Makayla Keate were students from the Praxis Labs course which dealt with refugee resettlement in the United States. Dr. Caren Frost and Dr. Lisa Gren taught the course.

“The Honors College at the University of Utah asked us if we would teach this class,” Gren said. The course “was a culmination of information that we’ve been learning as we did research that we were then sharing with the students.”

(Courtesy of Peter Johnston)

The U’s Center for Research on Migration & Refugee Integration has been working with refugee populations since 2016. “We wanted students to become more involved [with learning about refugees],” Gren said.

The other part of the exhibit featured statistics on displaced peoples worldwide. It also showcased the individual refugees of the film and their aspirations along with boards inviting attendees to share their goals and dreams.

“It was absolutely inspiring,” said Spencer Schwendiman, the film’s videographer who was invited to participate in the project by Gren. He became more involved while listening to the interviews of the refugee students. The experience has helped him refocus on telling stories for future projects.

Ellingson, one of the students from the Praxis course, said that the group found some of the student refugees from clubs at the U and Salt Lake Community College. From there, it was by word of mouth that they found additional refugee students to interview for the film.

“[Refugees] enrich our community in a lot of ways,” she said, adding that many refugees become business owners and help communities by creating jobs.

(Courtesy of Peter Johnston)

“I have a lot of ideas on how to help refugees pertaining to the economy,” said Garff, another one of the students involved in the making of the film. She also said that combining economics with methods of assisting refugees will help them as they relocate from one place to another.

“I loved it,” said Jeff Turner, a student working on a Ph.D. in History who heard about the film and the exhibit on Facebook. “It’s always helpful to hear stories of individuals in moments like these.”

The entire exhibit will be on display at the Marriott Library in January. Organizers of the event are looking to host the exhibit at libraries across the county in the coming months.

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