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More About Helping the Unseen


Hussien Abdulwafi, USF doctoral student in education, coaches refugee children

Hussien Abdulwafi, USF doctoral student in education, coaches refugee children via a program developed by Partners in Engaging and Empowering Refugees (PEER), an organization founded by faculty, students and alumni.  Photo: Sandra C. Roa | USF

Helping the Unseen: USF in action

Faculty, students and alumni welcome refugees to the Tampa Bay region and work to help them succeed

• Janet Blair, MA '94, is head of the Tampa Bay Refugee Task Force, a coalition that unites organizations serving refugees throughout the community. USF alumni, faculty and students also work with numerous other programs providing refugee services.

• USF researchers and students contributed to the creation of Tampa Bay Gardens, a community garden that gives refugees a space to grow food to feed their families and forge connections with one another.

• USF students and alumni participate in numerous initiatives throughout the community, including welcoming refugees when they arrive at the airport, serving as translators, and collecting items and funds to help refugees start their new lives in America.

• Each fall, USF hosts a National Welcoming Week Festival to celebrate refugees and immigrants, the diversity of their cultures, and their contributions to American society.

• In March 2017, USF's Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement organized "Passages," an event to simulate the vetting process refugees must complete before they can enter the United States.

Student volunteers showcase their work with refugee organizations on campus

Student volunteers showcase their work with refugee organizations on campus and in the Tampa Bay community during the United We Stand event hosted by students from the Disaster and Humanitarian Relief Student Collaborative. Participants at the event learned about volunteer opportunities, cultural tolerance and refugee programs around Tampa Bay.  Photo: Sandra C. Roa | USF


Helping the Unseen: Student Perspective

Human trafficking, behind the scenes

portrait of Michelle Lyman, a rising fourth-year medical student

Michelle Lyman is a rising fourth-year medical student in the SELECT Program at USF.

Physicians across many specialties are treating trafficked persons in their practice. Yet, they are not trained to recognize human trafficking or know how to intervene. Studies have shown that 88 percent of U.S.-born sex trafficking victims reported receiving medical care while being trafficked. This puts health care providers in a key position with these vulnerable individuals to aid in identification, prevention and intervention, but only if they are educated about the clinical presentations of human trafficking. In an effort to increase health care's capacity to fight human trafficking, I worked behind the scenes at my medical school's simulation center, creating a clinical scenario centered on treating a trafficked person for my fellow students to learn from.

This case was designed to expose future physicians to the complexity of human trafficking. The simulation center provides a learning environment to explore uneasy feelings in difficult clinical scenarios and practice building trust. It is okay to become flustered and misspeak — this experience is formative; however, when the students are the practicing physicians in a few short years, stakes are higher.

Watching through the two-way mirror, I saw students grow. Most were courteous; however, few took the extra effort to build a certain degree of trust with their distracted patient sitting on the examination table. This patient's clipped responses to questions often intimidated many students, leading them to shy away from asking heavy questions about her history with abuse.

Patients benefited the most from those students who were compassionate. Students who succeeded built a relationship by being empathetic. They looked beyond the exterior of a stoic young woman and offered her confidentiality, demonstrating respect for her decision to disclose. Their tone was non-judgmental and gentle when they took notice of her brandings that signaled her trafficking history. The objective of the case was not for the student to learn how to be a knight in shining armor, but to discover the uneasy feeling of knowing that something is not quite right — a feeling that so many providers describe. With this unease it is crucial to introduce the concept of empowering patients and gaining their trust, understanding that each interaction with trafficked persons can build his or her resolve.

What I hope for when standing behind the glass is that students will understand that this interaction can help the trafficked person gain control over their decision to leave. That we, as health care professionals, are not here to merely tell patients that they must leave their trafficker. Rather, our aim should be giving them tools to be able to leave successfully, with their own self-reserve. One of the most important tools recommended is to give is access to the National Human Trafficking Hotline through 1-888-373-7888 or texting HELP or INFO to 233733. The lines are available 24/7 and connect victims to numerous resources across the United States, equipping victims with the knowledge to safely escape trafficking.

By Michelle Lyman, USF Health Morsani College of Medicine

Michelle Lyman is a rising fourth-year medical student in the SELECT Program at the University of South Florida. She currently lives in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where she completed her third-year clerkships. She is interested in public health and patient advocacy.

Excerpted with permission from In-Training, the online magazine for medical students.


Helping the Unseen: Learning English

Students use refugee stories to help new refugees learn English

Anthropology professor Roberta Baer, PhD, and her students are creating reading materials that will help new refugees learn English — and feel less alone as they adjust to life in America.

USF Anthropology professor Roberta Baer, PhD.

USF Anthropology professor Roberta Baer, PhD, and her students created a new oral history course, where they conducted interviews with refugees to help new refugees learn English.  Photo: Sandra C. Roa | USF

In fall 2016, students in Baer's newly created Oral Histories course conducted interviews with 21 refugees.

Those interviews have since been transcribed and turned into stories written on a fourth-grade reading level. After some finishing touches, they will be bound and made available to Caribe, a division of the Hillsborough County Public Schools that provides English-language instruction to refugees.

Copies of the book, titled American Stories, will also be provided to libraries throughout the Hillsborough public school district.

A grant from USF's Office of Community Engagement & Partnerships funded development of the course and the cost to transcribe the interviews. Baer's graduate assistant, Emily Holbrook, has conducted much of the work to finalize the book of stories.

Baer said both the connections the students have made with the refugees, and the materials they have created, are powerful.

"The students have started to realize the challenges that refugees face, and for the refugees, the chance to connect and begin to interact with an American is very interesting," she says.

"The refugees have left everything behind. What they have left is their stories. It is a wonderful contribution to record their stories and turn them into a useful product that will help new refugees."

Baer expects the book to be complete by August. Then she and a new class of students will begin volume two.