Irene Routté’s essay received the 2022 Bennetta Jules-Rosette Graduate Essay Award honorable mention
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.
ASC Director Omolade Adunbi, who recommended Routté’s essay to AfAA, commented: Routté shows how processes of racialization produce violence that complicates ideas of humanitarianism … and makes an important contribution to how we understand Blackness among new generations of Africans who are finding a home in the United States.
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.
This particular paper is something I have wanted to write for a long time. Focus on refugee youths racialized as Black who are impacted by the racism present in interlocking welfare systems, while they are also trying to grasp what it means to be Black in the U.S., is something that does not get discussed in social work practice spaces often. I see this essay, and my future research at the intersection of refugee resettlement, race, place, and belonging, as providing important interventions in social work practice education and planning and recommendations related to government and organizational policy, says Routté.
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).
For students, particularly Black students, the connection to professors and peers who understand and affirm the worth of your work can make or break you as a scholar. I’m thankful for feeling a part of a community on campus that really centers the value and perspectives of the research that students are developing.