Irene Routté, a University of Michigan (U-M) doctoral candidate in social work and socio-cultural anthropology with a graduate certificate in African Studies, recently received the 2022 Bennetta Jules-Rosette Graduate Essay Award honorable mention from The Association for Africanist Anthropology (AfAA). The yearly prize highlights papers that bring out emerging perspectives that promise to develop significant contributions to the fields of Africanist anthropology, African studies, or African diaspora studies. Routté’s essay, “Will You Take Care? Bio-Space, Racial Assemblages and the U.S. Youth Refugee Resettlement Welfare System,” is an ethnographic case study of an unaccompanied refugee minor from Nigeria during his first year in care under the United States Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). In her paper, Routté documents the youth’s treatment by refugee and humanitarian organizations, educational institutions, and psychiatric and medical resources—showing the threats and challenges he encountered while emphasizing the construction of Blackness and how the U.S. immigration system applies racialized categories to new immigrants. 

Before starting her doctoral work at U-M, Routté worked as a case manager with unaccompanied refugee youth in ORR-administered programs for many years. The questions that arose from her practice work influenced her decision to pursue doctoral research. 

Over her time at U-M, Routté has worked closely with members of the Banyamulenge Congolese refugee community located in the Grand Rapids area. Her connection to this community started as a research assistant with her social work advisor, Odessa Gonzalez-Benson’s research team, “Just Futures.” Public scholarship is grounding to her work. She has continued this collaboration in various ways by providing capacity building around organizational development and program development for the refugee-led organizations (RLOs) based in this community. Most recently, she assisted in developing a Banyamulenge youth council which led a community listening session with Grand Rapids council members and the chief of police after the GR police killing of Congolese refugee youth Patrick Lyoya. 

Routté shared that she finally found what feels like a true intellectual home at U-M through her affiliation with ASC and the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies (DAAS).