A new book by Trinity College Charles A. Dana Research Associate Professor of Political Science Stefanie Chambers, Somalis in the Twin Cities and Columbus: Immigrant Incorporation in New Destinations (Temple University Press, 2017), studies the assimilation of Somali Americans in Minnesota’s Twin Cities and in Columbus, Ohio. Since 2012, Chambers has conducted research into the history of Somalis in the United States to learn more about their path to the Twin Cities and Columbus and their subsequent political, economic, and social incorporation.
For her book, Chambers argues that despite the comparable characteristics of Columbus and the Twin Cities – such as both being state capitals and having big universities, many low-skilled jobs, and relatively affordable housing – they differ in how their Somali communities have been incorporated. She measured 14 indicators of incorporation in her book. Beyond a range of quantitative measures of incorporation, Chambers also conducted 135 interviews to understand the cultural fabric of the communities. The indicators were categorized into three groups: political, economic, and social. Participation in electoral and governing coalitions and unions were some of the ways Chambers evaluated Somalis’ political incorporation. Household income, employment, and home ownership were a few ways used to measure economic incorporation, while social indicators included Somalis in the media and police force. Chambers’s goal was to provide recommendations for policymakers so that they can improve the incorporation of Somalis and other immigrants in Columbus, the Twin Cities, and beyond.
While interviewing Somalis in the Twin Cities and Columbus, Chambers felt she was immediately welcomed into the community. “The reception I received initially in Columbus by Somalis was quite remarkable. People shared so much with me and I believe we established clear lines of trust. They believed me when I said I wanted to help make recommendations to improve policies for Somalis,” said Chambers. Even though Chambers did not know any Somalis prior to her research, she developed friendships and relationships through her work. “My research has always focused on how marginalized populations gain a voice, but I have always done research on minority groups that I’ve considered myself a part of. This was a very different community for me to study and one of which I was not part. I learned a great deal, especially about Islam and the cultural traditional of Somalis,” she said. Chambers’s experience with the Somali communities fueled her desire to follow through on her promise of forming policy recommendations.
Following the release of her book, Chambers has been interviewed by WOSU Public Media and The Columbus Dispatch interviewed Chambers about her recommendation that, like the Twin Cities, Columbus needs Somali police officers to improve their assimilation in the city. Chambers believes the addition of Somali police officers would increase the level of trust between the Somali community and police force and help others better understand Somali culture.
Building upon her research of Somali immigrants in the U.S., Chambers has begun to research the incorporation of the recently increasing population of Somali immigrants in Sweden. Chambers said, “Professors at Trinity are able to do research that we’re passionate about and teach what we’re passionate about.” On February 23, Chambers presented research from her book during a Common Hour lecture that was attended by Trinity alumnus Ahmed Yusuf IDP ’97, who helped introduce Chambers to the Somali community in Minneapolis, where he lives. Both Chambers and Yusuf will take part in a discussion of immigration and politics on April 18 in Minneapolis.
Chambers has been supported by Trinity research assistants including Julianna Maisano ’17, who collected and organized relevant articles, assessed the content of the articles, and edited drafts of chapters. “Professor Chambers’s research is an integral part of highlighting the obstacles refugees face when entering a new country, and she works to ensure that groups are able to effectively merge with society and are treated fairly,” said Maisano.
Caroline Lee ’17, who is supporting Chambers in her research of Somali immigrants in Sweden, said, “As the political climate is becoming less and less inclusive of immigrants and other cultures, especially through the rise of Islamophobia, I have seen Professor Chambers become even more determined to make a change for Somalis everywhere. It is truly inspirational to be able to work with such an esteemed professor who is so focused and concerned about improving the lives of this community of people.”
The Trinity College Faculty Research Committee, the Charles A. Dana Research Professorship, and the American Political Science Association funded Chambers’s research. In the future, her research and book will inform at least three of her courses at Trinity: “Urban Politics,” “American National Government,” and “Gender Politics and Policy.”
Written by Annelise Gilbert ’17