skip to main content
A-Z Index Directory Calendar Libraries Webmail
827
Changing Perspectives

"As a health intern, I learned that the American medical system is not well-equipped to deal with refugee health because of the rigidness of our social structure."

Elena Diller '17 New American Pathways Atlanta, GA

I sit in the passenger seat of a 15-person van, listening to 90's rap music on a hot July Wednesday. Perhaps it's just my imagination, but the van squeaks up onto its two right wheels as we round the corner, my case manager rapping to an old-school Usher song. The van lets out a sigh of relief as we straighten onto the road. We had just dropped off a client at a doctor's appointment. The young man is from Uganda, yet due to his sexual orientation, he is not safe in his home country. Up on the main road, I see a banner waving above a red food truck in an otherwise empty parking lot, partially surrounded by abandoned buildings. The words "Refuge Coffee" fly in a white print and I can't help but wonder if the banner is connected to the thousands of refugees which are resettled in the neighborhood.

* * * *

Clarkston, GA is one of the most diverse cities in the United States. Over 2500 refugees every year find themselves relocated in the small town just miles outside of metro-Atlanta. From the outside, Clarkston seems to be filled with run-down strip malls, apartment complexes teetering on top of each other as they compete for space among the overgrown grass and cracked sidewalks. Yet, from an insider's view, a status I have earned by working as Shepherd intern this summer, Clarkston is the world condensed into square feet. Congolese mothers walk with their children to Thriftown, the local discount grocery where a Bhutanese woman stocks the shelves. Twenty feet away from the store, Ethiopian and Nepali restaurants serve hungry customers during the throes of lunch hour. It was not, however, until I visited Somali plaza, a strip mall of Somalian-owned stores, that I understood the vitality and resistance of refugees. How little countries may form anywhere in the world so long as there is culture and community.

I called my visits to Clarkston "field trips" from my daily health internship at New American Pathways (NAP), a refugee resettlement service in Atlanta. To be honest, most of my days at NAP consisted of paperwork and logging case notes in paper format and online. Though NAP is funded primarily on donations and grants, the Georgia Department of Human Services is also a source of funding. Such paperwork is therefore integral to the success of the organization, as funding from the government requires documentation of services provided. By the time case managers at NAP provide comprehensive services, which range from picking up a refugee family at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta airport to renewing their Medicaid and Food Stamps, they have little time to case note. Often, I would serve the agency by doing the deskwork of the case managers, scheduling doctor's appointments (read: being put on hold for 10-90 minutes at a time), prepping case files and making copies.

These seemingly mundane tasks proved to be exceedingly difficult at times. As a health intern, I learned that the American medical system is not well-equipped to deal with refugee health because of the rigidness of our social structure. Our medical system, and to a larger extent, American social welfare, lacks the flexibility to understand personal circumstances. Government welfare requires that refugees follow the same rules as American citizens, yet refugees have extenuating circumstances that prevent them from receiving the same benefits as native-born Americans. For example, all Americans must apply for Medicaid using state paperwork, a process that takes up to a month. Because refugees lack health insurance when they first arrive, they use the Emergency department for the most basic of healthcare needs. They frequently utilize ambulances because they lack the knowledge and ability to transport themselves. The result is thousands of taxpayer dollars wasted, as the refugees cannot pay the medical bills. If the state government was to amend certain welfare assistance programs to accommodate for these unique circumstances, refugees would receive better health care upon arrival to the United States, and the healthcare would be cheaper for the state.

Even with laws in place to specifically help refugees, refugee resettlement services are left to align healthcare disparities. For example, although medical providers are required by law to provide interpreters if they accept Medicaid, a majority of providers do not provide this needed interpreter. Thus, I found myself calling Medicaid to schedule interpreters on behalf of my clients. Other times, I would run around the office and persuade one of our multi-lingual staff members to attend the appointment with the client. Sometimes, these attempts would be in vain as refugees would arrive late or completely miss their appointments. Public or even Medicaid-provided transportation would delay my clients' arrival to appointments, as would different cultural understandings of promptness. Therefore, the duty of our organization, and arguably the moral duty of all of those who engage with refugees, is to provide that needed flexibility.

For example, case managers often take it upon themselves to drive clients to appointments to ensure a timely arrival. That July Wednesday, after my case manager and I dropped off the client at his appointment, I found myself looking up at the "Refuge Coffee" banner. My case manager pulled into the parking lot and parked behind the red food truck. As we walked up to the truck, the creative branding initially impressed me. But listening to my case manager talk with the truck owner put meaning behind the shiny logo. Refuge Coffee not only trained and employed refugees in making caffeinated drinks, but was also dedicated to combatting the social isolation this disadvantaged group faces.

Despite closely-knit ethnic communities, there is little integration between different ethnicities. Somalian families are resettled with other Somalian families, while the Bhutanese families are resettled with each other. This technique is often helpful for newly arrived refugees, as they like to be surrounded by similar cultures and people, yet it creates ethnic isolation over time. Clarkston lacks a community center, so whether by choice or social structure, refugees often feel stuck within their small social circles. Refuge Coffee provides a meeting place that is not only accessible to most of these various ethnic communities, but also allows integration with native-born Americans. My case manager and I departed the establishment, a coffee in my hand for me and for the Ugandan man we were going to pick up. Through my Shepherd internship, my understanding of community has grown because of the problems I've observed in Clarkston, but also the community I was welcomed into while interning.

Engaged Community

Students have access to a world of academic, athletic and extracurricular activities no matter what their major--and a strong support system composed of both students and faculty to help them succeed in whatever they choose to do.

In Action People and Programs

When W&L students and alumni describe what makes Washington and Lee special, they invariably talk about the community. Our beloved Speaking Tradition creates an open, friendly atmosphere on campus, while our commitment to inclusion means that students can get involved on campus from day one. Students have access to a world of academic, athletic and extracurricular activities no matter what their major--and a strong support system composed of both students and faculty to help them succeed in whatever they choose to do.

W&L's commitment to service and sustainability encourages students to become an integral part of the local and global community as well. Before they even arrive on campus, first-year students can participate in Volunteer Venture, a one-week, service-learning, pre-orientation program. Once on campus, students may volunteer with a variety of organizations, including Nabors Service League, the Bonner Scholars Program, the Compost Crew, the Student Environmental Action League and the Campus Kitchen at Washington and Lee. Themed housing options for upper-division students include the Global Service House and the Sustainability Development House.

Service learning is also an important component of many of our academic programs. Students in the Shepherd Program for the Interdisciplinary Study of Poverty and Human Capability combine academic study with co-curricular work and rigorous internships to learn about issues related to poverty. Students with a variety of majors volunteer in the local public schools and participate in service-minded co-curricular programs, including Washington and Lee Student Consulting and the General Development Initiative.

At an institutional level, Washington and Lee is committed to the local community through an ongoing grants program that provides financial assistance to worthwhile projects and organizations.

Related Stories

At a Glance Facts and Figures

246,339 meals served to food-insecure families and individuals by the Campus Kitchen at W&L to date.
64,079 hours of community service logged by W&L students last year.
W&L has awarded local nonprofit organizations $332,542 through its Community Grants Program since 2008.
13 W&L graduates joined the Teach for America corps in 2014, making the university one of the top 20 small colleges and universities sending graduates into teaching service for the second straight year.
W&L has 472 varsity student athletes, with over 75% of the student body participating in organized sports at the intramural, club or varsity level.
95% of the student body is involved in the nationally renowned quadrennial Mock Convention.

Visit, Interview, Apply See Yourself Here

Ready to learn more? Come visit us in Lexington for a campus tour and class visit, or connect with one of our admissions counselors in a city near you. We look forward to meeting you.

Visit Tours and Interviews

Step One:

Schedule your visit with a campus tour and/or info session online.

Step Two:

Call our office to schedule your interview and/or class visit (for high school seniors only). We will coordinate your interview and class visit with your already scheduled visit. (540) 458-8710.

Can't make it to Lexington?

There are various ways in which you can still connect with Washington and Lee University and the Office of Admissions:

Apply Now

Apply Quick Guide

Deadlines:
  • Early Decision is a binding commitment; enrollment is required if you are accepted.
    • ED-1: Nov. 1
    • ED-2: Jan. 1
  • Regular Decision is for students who want to maximize options.
    • Deadline: Jan. 1
  • Johnson Scholarship (additional essay required, instructions on the W&L Writing Supplement to the Common Application.)
    • Deadline: Dec. 1
Testing:
Application Materials:

Financial Aid and Scholarships

We seek to ensure that the cost of attending W&L does not prevent outstanding students from choosing to enroll. A generous need-based aid program and merit-based scholarships can make that investment more manageable than you may think. Visit Financial Aid for more information.

The Johnson Scholarship Program awards over 40 full tuition, room and board scholarships annually. Read More

Admitted students who meet financial aid deadlines and are found to have need will have their full need met with grant funds and a work-study job -- no loans.

The W&L Promise guarantees free tuition to any undergraduate student admitted to Washington and Lee with a family income below $100,000. Learn More

Net Price Calculator

W&L

Washington and Lee University provides a liberal arts education that develops students' capacity to think freely, critically, and humanely and to conduct themselves with honor, integrity, and civility. Graduates will be prepared for life-long learning, personal achievement, responsible leadership, service to others, and engaged citizenship in a global and diverse society.