Last year, Centre College inaugurated the Creative Thinking Immersion Program (CTIP), a component of the Creative Centre initiative designed to have students create their own research projects with faculty mentorship and creative thinking and problem solving. Junior Emma Jackson and sophomore Hibah Siddiqui took an immediate interest in the program, and decided to collaborate on a Kentucky-focused project.

Jackson and Siddiqui attended the same high school, where they shared an interest in starting conversations about the treatment and perceptions of people who are “different.” “We would often discuss how angry it made us that there was so much fear that turned to hatred when it came to people of different cultures, particularly immigrants and refugees,” Jackson said.

Siddiqui added that through her own personal research, she realized a lot of the fear towards refugees comes from a lack of knowledge. “The media often dehumanizes them, and I wanted to take on a project that would help bridge the very human connection that could be formed between refugees and Americans,” she said.

Particularly with the current refugee crisis, both women knew this was an issue they not only wanted, but needed to address, and believed CTIP was the perfect opportunity to do so.

Over the course of the summer, Jackson and Siddiqui traveled throughout Kentucky to interview and photograph over forty resettled refugees in the state. “We were hoping to get one or two interviews from each city (Bowling Green, Lexington, and Louisville). But so many people excitedly signed up, which was a really cool thing to see,” Siddiqui said.

Jackson recalled how they expected to hear many stories of feeling unaccepted because of the negative rhetoric surrounding immigration and refugees in the media, “but the vast number of refugees felt so welcome and accepted in Kentucky,” Jackson said. “They found the community members to be helpful and kind.” Siddiqui also found the people’s willingness to share their stories a bit surprising. “They come from dangerous, difficult backgrounds, and to open up to people they just met was really remarkable. It just shows a fraction of the strength they have,” she said.

Upon completion of their interviews, Jackson and Siddiqui decided they wanted to take the project a step further than just an academic presentation, and knew the best way to spread the word about the refugee crisis was to present it to the public. They inquired at the Danville Community Arts Center, which happened to have an opening for an exhibit at the end of the year, during the holiday season.“We were very fortunate that the Community Arts Center took our project and not only put it on display, but invited members of the community to a talk which Hibah and I were able to hold,” Jackson said. The exhibit featured only a small selection of interviewees, but both women found it particularly important to present their project in Danville, especially with the recent arrival of two new refugee families.

The women were excited to have this opportunity to help educate the community, and believe the reception of the exhibit shows how much Danville has grown and diversified, not only in terms of the people who live here, but in thought. The gallery is still traveling around town, at the community’s request. “While we didn’t start off with this goal, the ultimate goal of the project now is to just share their stories and give them the voice they may not have had,” Siddiqui said.

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