Around the Field: US Psych Course Gains Refugees Element in Heidelberg

The College of New Jersey’s psychology course, Psychology of Power, Oppression, and Privilege, has been taught for years, by many professors, in Ewing Township (NJ) the course took on a whole new dimension when taught during Spring 2019 at Athena’s Germany program hosted at the European Study Center, in Heidelberg, Germany.

As the course syllabus says, it covers, “in-depth,” psychology topics such as “stereotyping, prejudice and privilege, discrimination and advantage, intergroup relations, attributions, social influence, personal self-esteem and collective self-esteem.” Heavy material, definitely, and a course that results in soul-searching class discussions on a campus that is more than one-third minority students.

In Heidelberg, the course was taught by Dr. Chu Kim-Prieto, who has taught the course in New Jersey several times. But the course’s new dimension was that the professor and her students worked with refugee children at the Counselling Center for Refugees of Diakonisches Werk Heidelberg and Caritasverband Heidelberg e.V., located at Patrick Henry Village, a repurposed part of a former US military base. The refugee children are from North Africa, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Bangladesh, Russian Federation and other countries.

Kim-Prieto and her students engaged in activities with 25-30 children, who range in age from Kindergarten to “tweens,” for two hours, two days a week. Activities included making crafts; playing football, soccer, and frisbee; and holiday-themed parties. Holidays chosen were Mardi Gras, German-style Easter, and U.S. holidays; celebrations unrelated to the children’s home cultures were considered “neutral,” versus choosing a celebration based in one of the children’s own home countries, the professor said.

Kim-Prieto’s class, with only a half-dozen students, is not the only ESC/TCNJ course to volunteer at Patrick Henry Village. She said TCNJ classes (including a business class) volunteer there every semester, including Refugee Crisis: A Multi-Disciplinary Policy Perspective on the European Refugee Crisis. (Kim-Prieto said she observed a high level of interest in volunteer work among U.S. study abroad students.) All volunteers at Patrick Henry Village work alongside representatives of Caritas and Diakonie, German, Catholic and Protestant nonprofit organizations, respectively.

Antonia Heuchmer, an ESC program manager, said that normally only one ESC class works with the refugee children at one time, for a total of about 25 ESC students per year. ESC has been working with Patrick Henry Village since 2017. Heuchmer explained that Patrick Henry Village is the refugees’ arrival camp only for the state of Baden Wurttemberg. It currently has about 1,200 refugees.

The professor said that the connection between her ESC/TCNJ Psychology of Power course and volunteer work with refugee children is that her students wrote a final paper in which they were required to tie together readings for the course with their experience with the refugees.

Kim-Prieto has taught at TCNJ since 2005, but she has not always taught the Psychology of Power course. She said she “really enjoys” teaching it because the course requires students to “think about who they are and how they fit in.” Kim-Prieto said that psychology of power/oppression/privilege is not her research or teaching specialty; instead, her specialty is cross-cultural differences in emotions. Her doctorate in psychology is from the University of Illinois Urbana / Champaign.

Kim-Prieto said that she believes the Psychology of Power course is somewhat unusual in U.S. universities.

The TCNJ/ESC course has 10 course objectives, including,

“Practice techniques for interrupting prejudice and privilege, resolving intergroup conflicts, appreciating human diversity, and adopting a nonviolent lifestyle.”

The learning outcomes on Kim-Prieto’s syllabus are not listed, but explained, for example: “this course will provide you with fundamental ‘life skills’ that you will use over and over again in your other courses, in graduate school and in the ‘real world.’ Honing these skills now, however painful that process might be, will benefit you for the rest of your life.”

Students were graded on the basis of three reflection papers, participation in class discussions, oral presentation and discussion of a scholarly research journal article, an “interrupting prejudice and privilege project” and a paper about that project, and two exams.

Students volunteering on the German refugee center.
Pictures courtesy of Melissa Lee and Brian Sutera.

Students in the course are required to read all of Rupert Brown’s book, Prejudice: Its Social Psychology (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), plus parts of five other books and various other readings. Among the other books are: Janet E. Helms’ Race is a nice thing to have: A guide to being a white person or understanding the White persons in your life (Microtraining Associates, 2008) and Beverly Daniel Tatum’s Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria? And other conversations about race (Basic Books, 1997).

Kim-Prieto, for whom spring semester was her first experience teaching abroad, said that TCNJ decided to offer the Psychology of Power course at Heidelberg because it is one choice for psychology juniors’ required electives, and that it was a “good fit” for the students and the location. Transfer students also need 300-level courses, and of course all students who study abroad do so still wanting to graduate on time. (All but one of her students in Psychology of Power were from TCNJ.) During her spring semester in Heidelberg, Kim-Prieto also taught a psychology research lab course. 

She said that last spring her children were with her in Heidelberg, her son in second grade (“no problem”) and her daughter in high school, which took more resourceful planning. Kim-Prieto said that she does not know if she will be able to teach abroad again, but that she would like to.

Learn more about this exciting course, and other academic and experiential opportunities available on Athena’s Heidelberg, Germany program.

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