Hopelessness, Harshness, and How You Can help: Stacey Shaw’s Research on Mental Health among Refugees in Malaysia

Photo by Larm Rmah on Unsplash

Dr. Stacey Shaw is an assistant professor in the Department of Social Work whose interest in her field started by becoming aware of the world around her through getting involved on campus while she attended BYU. After obtaining her bachelor and master degrees in Provo, Shaw worked at the International Rescue Committee, a refugee resettlement agency in Salt Lake, and later went on to earn her PhD at Columbia University. Her research primarily involves work with refugees, both in the United States and internationally.

Refugee Presence in Malaysia

The Southeast-Asian nation of Malaysia remains among the top 10 host countries for refugees on their way to a third country. Over 80% of the 70 million refugees worldwide are hosted by underdeveloped or developing countries and Malaysia on its own host 177,000 refugees and asylum seekers who have very limited legal rights. Working together with community based organizations, Dr. Shaw’s team aimed to better understand the mental health needs of Afghan and Rohingya refugees, however, the studies participants make up only a small percentage of the refugees in Malaysia and their findings do not represent all refugees and should not be generalized.

Refugee’s Conditions

Refugees’ undocumented status in Malaysia resulted in a lack of public services such as healthcare and work opportunities. Across Dari- and Farsi- speaking refugees included in the study, nearly half experienced high levels of food insecurity. Around 17% of the study’s participants were homeless, or, if not, lived in crowded, non-permanent conditions. Other challenges that families experienced that are common to refugee conditions both in the U.S. and abroad were economic wellbeing and disrupted education for school-aged children.  Additionally, many refugees dealt with unwelcoming natives, reporting harassment and extortion by Malaysian authorities. 

Such unfortunate uncontrollable conditions and an uncertain future led to stress that caused hopelessness, difficulty regulating emotions, and lowered cognitive abilities (like memory and decision making). Using a test that measures symptoms of mental disorders (e.g. anxiety and depression) and trauma specifically in refugees, Shaw and her research team found that 98.8% of their participants measured positive for emotional distress symptoms – a percentage four times higher than Shaw expected. One factor, however, associated with lower levels of stress was marriage. Having a partner to share responsibilities and provide social and emotional support may strengthen physical and mental wellbeing.

Moving Forward in Malaysia

Shaw suggests implementing more community resources or opportunities for social support, but believes what is really needed is a large scale policy solution. Key services opportunities to provide social support include additional health, employment, and education services. The refugees expressed genuine desire to discuss the difficulties of living as a refugee and for help developing coping strategies. 

Helping Out At Home

You don’t have to major in social work or go far from home to provide service to refugees here in Utah and internationally.  To get started, Shaw suggests starting with what interest you. Attend lectures, read about the refugee crisis, ask questions, and find people that are doing things that you care about and connect with them. Being informed and politically active will allow you to make a positive difference. There are many opportunities around campus and Utah to get educated and get involved. 

  • Shaw, alongside Christopher Quinlan, advised the student led Refugee Empowerment Club that was recently dissolved into the first university chapter of Their Story is Our Story. Their aim is to educate students raising awareness through guest speakers and connecting students with service opportunities around Utah.
  • BYU’s Center for Service and Learning (Y-Serve) has a Refugee Program that meets once a week to  sort out donations, and make quilts, mattresses, and teddy bears for refugees in Jordan.
  • The International Rescue Committee’s Salt Lake office always appreciates student volunteers to help tutor and mentor refugees.

To Troll or Not to Troll: Millennials and Politics Today

Photo by Yolanda Sun on Unsplash

What does trolling have to do with millennials’ political participation? Dr. Lynn Clark, communications professor at the University of Denver, kicked off the Fall 2019 Civic Engagement Research Conference with her lecture on “Growing up Tracked: How Millennials are Changing Politics by Harnessing Attention in a Society of Surveillance.” Dr. Clark discussed how young people today are combining digital media and civic literacy as they participate in the political process and advocate for change. This participation often takes the form of trolling and “soft trolling,” a term coined by Dr. Clark. Here are three things that you need to know about trolling and younger generations’ political participation:

Trolling is Not What You Think It Is

Dr. Clark defined trolling as “saying something online to upset as many people as possible using whatever linguistic or behavioral tools that are available.” However, when young people engage in trolling to participate in politics, they troll for a purpose, not just to be antagonistic. For example, they troll the trolls (call out people that slander them), troll the system by challenging its flaws, and engage in “soft trolling.”

“Soft Trolling”: A More Indirect Approach

“Soft trolling” refers to how youth are “calling attention to power dynamics” with their peers as the intended audience, not larger corporations or governments. Youth use this method to advocate for political change in a more indirect manner so that they will not be viewed as too antagonistic. An example Dr. Clark presented of soft trolling was a meme depicting a man playing tennis, swinging at tear gas instead of a ball. The creators of this meme were “making light of the situation” while also taking a certain political stance.

Sharing One’s Story

Young people are using social media to tell their stories and fight misrepresentation. Dr. Clark shared an example of a Senegalese Muslim high school student who created a TikTok video in response to the Netflix film “Tall Girl,” because she felt that her experience was ignored in the media’s narrative. This student and others are saying “my story is important and it’s not being validated here.” Dr. Clark further explains: “Rather than being framed in a way they don’t like, young people are utilizing media savvy to address their own concerns.”

Through trolling the trolls, trolling the system, and engaging in “soft trolling,” young people are combining their digital media and civic literacy to participate in politics. Because social media is emotionally charged in general, Dr. Clark ended her address with the following advice: “it is important for young people to figure out what they want to do and to see themselves as agentive [taking an active role] in some way” as they participate in politics through the use of social media.

Would Suffragists Support The Equal Rights Amendment? Find Out at the 2019 Dead Suffragists’ Debate

Would you like to meet some of the women who brought the vote to women 100 years ago? These women who changed the US political landscape may be gone, but you will have a chance to hear their arguments for women’s rights on Thursday, Nov 19, 2019 during the Dead Suffragists’ Debate.

This debate will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, passed June 4, 1919, that states: “The rights of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” On 18 August 1920, the 36th state ratified the amendment, and 8 days later it was officially adopted.

The Amendment was championed by several of the historical figures that will be on the stage at the Debate. All of them are contemporaries, but each experienced the period in a differently. The debate will be a fun experience to help those attending appreciate both the collective striving for women’s rights and the difficulties of finding common ground. This year two scholars, a BYU faculty member, and a student will be playing the roles of these visionaries:

Barbara Jones Brown, Executive Director of the Mormon History Association, will play Martha Hughes Cannon

Jane Hafen, Emerita Professor of English from University of Nevada, Las Vegas, will play Zitkala-Sa a.k.a Gertrude Bonnin

Jamie Horrocks, a BYU Assistant Professor of English, will play Alice Paul

Kayla Jackson, a BYU Political Science and Global Women’s Studies student, will play Ida B. Wells

While this debate will commemorate the 19th amendment, it will also be considering the Equal Rights Amendment, that states “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” This amendment was passed by Congress on March 22, 1972. This amendment, which did not require a time limit for ratification, still requires a single state’s vote to be ratified, the state of Utah.

In addition to hearing about these historical figures’ lives, the debate will consider what changed in some communities before, between, and after the legislation of the two amendments, one that has been ratified, the other that has not.

The Debate of the Dead is an annual event held by the Department of History that brings to life historical figures from the past to help shed light on the issues and challenges of their times, and how they effect us today.

This event is free of charge and open to the public. To get more information on the Dead Suffragists’ Debate, contact the History department at 801-422-4636.