Columbus, OH

Yearlong partnership between Ohio State and the city of Columbus hopes to build relationship with immigrant, migrant and refugee community

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Ohio State and the city of Columbus launched a partnership with a town hall on Tuesday. Credit: Zachary Rilley | Photo Editor

In an effort to build a more unified Columbus, a town hall event was held Tuesday to help shape city policy and build a sense of belonging for the immigrant, migrant and refugee community.

Around 35 people with immigrant, migrant or refugee ties attended the event at Independence High School — the first of many town halls to gain research and understanding about immigrant concerns and needs.

The town hall marked the start of a one-year partnership between the Ohio State College of Social Work and the city of Columbus project called “ Immigrants Make Columbus! “, Arati Maleku, associate professor in the College of Social Work, said.

“This project is looking at understanding, creating this comprehensive understanding of belonging and inclusion, and what are some of the policy and strategic priorities that we can come up with?” Maleku said.

This project marks the second time the College of Social Work has partnered with the city of Columbus. The first partnership, the “New Americans Project” in 2018, conducted “an in-depth assessment of needs and capacity of the human service landscape — formal, informal, and volunteer services — available in central Ohio for New Americans to bolster the New Americans Initiative led by the City of Columbus,” according to the project’s website.

City Council member Lourdes Barroso de Padilla said she was inspired to help lead this project as a daughter of refugees.

“Immigrants, migrants and refugees are one of the leading factors behind [Columbus’] population growth, and in the 50 years that my parents have been in the country and locally, they’ve never seen anyone who looked like them or had their shared experience ever sitting at a table making decisions on their behalf,” Barroso de Padilla said.

Columbus is home to over 155,000 residents born in other nations, which accounts for roughly 8 percent of the population, according to the City of Columbus website . Maleku said “by the year 2050, immigrant refugee communities are expected to grow by 1 million” in Columbus.

Tom Gregoire and Lisa Raiz, associate professors in the College of Social Work, led the town hall through a method called “World Café,” which Maleku said will “start a community conversation.”

The World Café method of large-scale dialogue and discussion draws on seven “integrated design principles” that include “clarify the context, create hospitable space, and explore questions that matter,” according to the method’s website . It is used to facilitate conversations for a specific purpose, including the “Immigrants Make Columbus!” project.

The method includes putting groups of individuals at small tables and rotating them every 20 minutes, with one person consistently at the same table in order to facilitate new conversations and connections, according to the website. Each round of small group dialogue is prefaced with a specific question, such as “What is it about your community that makes you feel welcome?” Individuals are then asked to share their answers and insights.

Barroso de Padilla said she hopes these types of town halls and the research done by the university will help shape policy ideas for the city council to undertake and ultimately lead to a better Columbus.

“What’s remarkable about this to me is that whenever we plan for the people who are the furthest away from justice, it helps all boats rise because what we’re doing is thinking about people where access is nuanced,” Barroso de Padilla said.

Maleku said she hopes the data collection will be done by the summer , and the researchers will use it to create preliminary findings by the fall. She said the researchers want to have the research and proposals submitted to the Columbus City Council by this time next year, if not earlier.

One key step in the research, Maleku said, is making sure the community understands and receives the information obtained from the research.

“It is important to also disseminate the information to nonacademic audiences, not just the research side of things, but making sure that the community that are participating in the project also knows some of the findings,” Maleku said.

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