Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)




International & Multicultural Education EdD

First Advisor

Monisha Bajaj

Second Advisor

Shabnam Koirala-Azad

Third Advisor

Marco Tavanti


Through a Critical Refugee Studies (CRS) lens that inherently challenges power, encourages multi-disciplinary approaches, and centers refugee epistemologies, this study centers ways of knowing and being among a group of ten Community Leader-Scholars (CoLS) with refugee experiences. This dissertation posits that CoLS offer critical perspectives that introduce new logics that disrupt traditional spaces and power dynamics. I frame CoLS as undergraduate or graduate students (or recent alumni) with refugee experiences who have self-identified and illustrated a commitment to community well-being in one or more of their transnational communities. This study employed qualitative research methods that included 10 interviews and four focus groups with a subset of participants. CoLS resided in the United States at the time of the study and come from diverse places of origin, including Burma, Iraq, Eritrea, Rwanda, Nepal/Bhutan, Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Somalia/Kenya.

Data revealed three main themes that make up a seemingly impenetrable barrier for CoLS. The first is the notion of being locked out of or severely constrained in a global capitalistic society. The challenge of accessing resources strains the movement away from survival mode and limits CoLS’ efforts toward collective uplift. Second, power dynamics manifested in contemporary neocolonial ways also limit forward movement. And finally, situating CoLS’ inherent collective way of being within a neoliberal, individualistic society in the context of the United States reveals notions of feeling stuck between two systems, isolation, and dehumanization.

Centering CoLS’ epistemologies inspire a sense of collective hope—a participant-coined term—through the beginning of a new collective of CoLS that provides a space for belonging, learning, and the harnessing of multi-generational resistance. Theoretical and future research implications of this study include re-imagining frameworks based on the collective, and further exploration of a multi-generational resistance framework. Practical implications include a call for service providers, educators, and policy makers to contemplate the existence and manifestations of the three underlying themes named above in their work; and encourage the opening up of spaces to learn from and be guided by epistemologies of those with refugee experiences.