Critically exploring the acculturative journeys of forced immigrant youth and the role YMCA sport programs can play in providing support during re-settlement

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The number of people worldwide who had been forced to flee their home country at the end of 2019 was 26 million (UNCHR, 2019). Canada has a history of providing a home to those in need and the number of asylum seekers and refugees (i.e., forced immigrants) who have been offered safe haven has steadily increased (GOC, 2018). Forced immigrants arriving in Canada, and other countries of re-settlement, face numerous challenges, including the task of acculturating to a new society. Forced immigrant youth are often the most in need of help, as they are often the ones who suffer the most from conflict. Sport has been recognized as one method of helping newcomers with social integration, but it is not a context that is always free of exclusionary and discriminatory practices. The aim of the project that underpins this dissertation was to use a community based participatory action research (CBPAR) approach to engage forced immigrant youth in the process of bringing about transformative change to sport programs they were involved in so that community sport programs could become more meaningful and inclusive for all participants. The research presented in this dissertation stems from my role in the CBPAR process of working with forced immigrant youth and YMCA settlement staff members to develop a deeper understanding about the meaning of sport in youths’ lives and the way they storied their involvement in community sport programs in Sudbury, Ontario. The research process began with a meta-synthesis of qualitative research conducted with forced immigrants engaged in sport and physical activity from which we drew upon synthesized lessons related to understanding forced immigrants’ acculturative journeys from a critical lens and the importance of psychological and cultural safety during this journey. Arts-based conversational interviews and a collaborative reflexive thematic analysis were used to develop two polyphonic vignettes that (re-)storied the changing meaning of sport in forced immigrant youths’ lives and the role sport played in helping them feel a sense of belonging (or not) in Sudbury. Polyphonic vignettes which featured multiple composite characters were used as the method of sharing forced immigrant youths’ stories so that the anonymity and confidentiality of the youth was preserved, while bringing new co-generated knowledge to a diverse range of audiences in an evocative and engaging manner. The reflexive and interdiscipinary approach to this project enabled me to ensure disciplinary, as well as my own personal, assumptions were not privileged, but rather that I remained open to the insights and directions provided by the community members I worked with. Centralizing forced immigrant youth and YMCA Settlement Services staff members meant knowledge developed through the vignettes was locally relevant and meaningful. Finally, the collaborative process engaged in with forced immigrant youth, YMCA Immigrant Services staff members and academic project team members in the development of the two vignettes was critically examined. Lessons are shared from the twists and turns that defined the research process and led to the development of a community of practice between forced immigrant families and the YMCA that will be sustained beyond the involvement of the academic team.
Date of Award14 Apr 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Laurentian University
SupervisorRobert J. Schinke (Supervisor), Diana Coholic (Supervisor) & Kerry R. Mcgannon (Supervisor)

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