Leave it behind.

Your bed. Your books. Your toys. Your home.

Take only what you can carry on this harrowing journey.

Across the globe, displacement forces people to make sacrifices like these and more. In Virginia, on land that originally belonged to Native Americans, displacement continues today in various forms.

Virginia Tech students and faculty members in the Center for Refugee, Migrant, and Displacement Studies are illuminating these stories.

The “In Place: Conversations About Displacement in the Commonwealth” podcast examines a different theme related to migration, displacement, and resettlement through interviews with experts on the topics, many of whom have personally experienced displacement. One episode, for example, includes an interview with a social worker who came to the United States as a refugee from Vietnam and now works with resettled populations in northern Virginia. Other episodes feature experts from organizations throughout Virginia, including from the founding members of the Blacksburg Refugee Partnerships.

“We created the podcast as a means to put a positive light on displaced populations in opposition to xenophobic narratives about foreigners,” said Rebecca Hester, an assistant professor in the Department of Science, Technology, and Society and the center’s associate director of education.

Hester serves as supervisor for “In Place.”

Displacement is a term used to discuss and describe a number of phenomena related to the forced migration of human and nonhuman species. Historical causes of displacement include civil unrest, gentrification, climate change, eminent domain, and broader power dynamics.

The topic is not yet an established field of study, a fact the center hopes to change through its efforts.

“Our understanding and use of the term is meant to refer to diverse categories and experiences, such as those of migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, humanitarian parolees, and those internally displaced by redlining, eminent domain, civil war, or climate change,” said Hester. “It is our hope that we will create a field that can simultaneously examine diverse issues such as redlining, refugee camps, and tent cities at the border to consider the experiences of the forcibly displaced, no matter how they are defined by the state.”

Displacement does not only affect the human population, Hester emphasized. “We tend to always think about people when we study displacement,” she said. “But the truth is that there are a significant number of animal and plant species displaced by events such as the construction of energy infrastructure, coastal flooding, and urban renewal.”

A prominent current example of displacement in Virginia involves eminent domain.

Hester pointed to the research of Katrina Powell, director of the Center for Refugee, Migrant, and Displacement Studies, on the effects of eminent domain on Virginia residents during the creation of the Shenandoah National Park. 

Emily Satterwhite, an associate professor and director of Appalachian Studies in the Department of Religion and Culture, has highlighted the effects of displacement on long-term landowners by the Mountain Valley Pipeline under construction across southern and southwest Virginia and northwestern West Virginia.

Brett Shadle, chair of the Department of History and the center’s associate director of outreach, brings an international perspective to the study of displacement with his research in Africa. He also coordinates a tutoring program that pairs Virginia Tech students with recently resettled families.

Hester hopes the stories told through the podcast inspire listeners to get involved with organizations such as local nonprofits and civic groups to help those affected by displacement.

“We believe in the power of narrative,” said Hester. “The podcast provides a place for people to share their stories and to control their own narratives, whether those narratives are about displacement or helping others who have been displaced.”

Students who have led the podcast include editor and producer Grace Cutsinger, a senior studying creative writing and English with a focus in education, and Deepa Gajulapalli, a senior majoring in human development with minors in strategic communication and political science.

More than 10 other undergraduate and graduate students have contributed to the project. Participating could prove beneficial for students and listeners alike. “In addition to improving their interviewing and editing skills,” said Hester, “students learn important elements of displacement: what it is, who is displaced, how displaced people are treated, and what they truly want for their own lives.”

The Center for Refugee, Migrant, and Displacement Studies launched in early 2021. Through its mission, the center strives to provide evidence-based data to inform decision-making for sustainable and equitable solutions to forced relocation and large-scale population movement.

“We want to center the humanity of those who have been displaced. So often, people who have experienced forced migration are described in dehumanizing ways,” Hester said. “Narratives about displacement often foreground the anti-immigrant sentiment of the U.S. population. We aim to humanize both those who have been displaced and those who support them by broadly applying the arts and the humanities. The ‘In Place’ podcast is one tool in our methodological toolkit.”

Those who have experienced displacement or who work in a related field in Virginia can reach out to the “In Place” team to discuss an episode appearance through the podcast’s contact page. The podcast website includes episodes and additional resources for listeners.

The Center for Refugee, Migrant and Displacement Studies will host an official launch event, followed by a reception, on Friday, April 8 from 4 to 6 p.m.

Written by Andrew Adkins