By Oluwatomike Adeboyejo

Students at this university educated the campus community Feb. 21 by telling stories of students who were once refugees and asylum seekers in a documentary called “DEPART.”

Toluwanimi Obalade, a junior economics major and minor in global poverty, and Mary Uwadineke, a senior food science major and minor in global poverty, produced the documentary where  students learned to look beyond stereotypes of refugees and asylum seekers.

“When you think of refugees you think of terrorist, Muslims, extremist, lazy people, people that are stealing your job,” Obalade said. “You think they have all these negative characteristics, but really they are the student sitting beside you in class.”

Over 40 students attended the documentary film screening in the Nyumburu Cultural Center. Many referred to it as an eye-opening experience because they never thought of an immigrant’s reality. The stigma that follows refugees and asylum seekers has often overshadowed the perspective of those outside looking in because of mainstream media.

“The refugee crisis is a conversation that hasn’t been discussed as thoroughly within our community, and so this documentary helped to bring awareness to the issue and bring it close to home for us,” said Angelica Ukwuoma, a senior engineering major. “It was interesting to hear the perspective of our fellow peers, and as a result, we can begin to take the initiative to learn more on how we can help our community.” .

Obalade and Uwadineke both worked together to ensure the documentary would have the biggest impact it possibly could within the university community.

“I had the idea to interview UMD students who were personally affected by the refugee or asylum process after the Protect UMD protest on campus,” Uwadineke said.

During the protest, students discussed the challenges people from marginalized communities face. Many told personal stories of their tribulations and encouraged other students to make a difference.

“I was especially moved when an undocumented student came out to tell her story, the support from the students really showed how powerful we the people can be if we unite,” Uwadineke said. “However, I wondered what would happen after the rally.”

Uwadineke did not want the protest to be the only opportunity students had to learn about the stories of their peers. She wanted others to understand the burden students from marginalized communities at this university felt.

Obalade assisted by finding and conducting interviews with student refugees and asylum seekers.

“[When] coming from Cameroon to America, it was a culture shock,” said Ashley Ako, a sophomore, biology major. “The adjustment wasn’t the easiest. Now that I look back at it, I’m like wow I really went through that.”  

Students who took part in the documentary were able to feel apart of a bigger community at. Before watching the documentary, many students were unaware that other students went through similar experiences.

It was interesting listening to other people’s stories, Ako said. The documentary was able to give her a moment where she felt like she was not alone.

Obalade and Uwadineke intend to use the documentary to enter as contestants in this university’s Do Good Challenge under the organization Oxfam in order to spread awareness on a wider scale.

Featured Photo Credit: Outside the Trump International hotel, a man identifying himself as an immigrant holds a sign asking if his status scares onlookers while talking to a woman in the crowd. Her expression implies that he does now. (Joe Duffy/Bloc Reporter)

Oluwatomike Adeboyejo is a junior journalism major and can be reached at tm.adeboyejo@gmail.com.

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