Education and belonging in the context of an unknowable future: Youth aspirations in Kakuma Refugee Camp
Michelle Bellino

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University of Michigan

Primary Discipline

As unprecedented numbers of forcibly displaced youth migrate and integrate into stable and weak democracies across the globe, it is crucial to understand the purpose and relevance of education for this population. Research has demonstrated the significant role of schools in shaping young people’s evolving sense of civic identity, agency, and belonging. Yet we know little about how educational experiences of refugee youth shape their long-term prospects for social mobility, belonging, and civic participation, within and across national borders. Drawing on participatory and ethnographic methods, this study employs the framework of youth citizenship as a lens into educational interactions in a refugee camp setting, where opportunities for participation and inclusion are constrained. Through participant observation in classrooms and communities, this study documents the educational trajectories of a youth cohort over three years as they develop their aspirations amidst protracted uncertainty. The participatory dimension of this work explores the ways in which refugee youth leverage their voice to advocate for educational change. Findings resulting from this study can deepen our understanding of how schools convey, constrain, and create youth civic pathways, so that we can contribute to young people’s sense of inclusion and their civic capacities to shape a better future.
About Michelle Bellino
Michelle Bellino is an Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan School of Education. Her research centers on young people’s understanding of historical injustice, whether experienced directly or shaped through school curriculum, family narratives, or social movements. In her work, she traces youth experiences from schools to their homes and communities in order to understand how knowledge and attitudes toward injustice travel across public and private spaces, as well as between generations. She asks how young people construct understandings of justice and injustice, while shaping an evolving sense of themselves as local and global civic actors. Her work has been featured in Harvard Educational Review; Education, Citizenship, and Social Justice; Comparative Education Review; and collections on history education and human rights. She has been recognized as a Peace Scholar by the United States Institute of Peace; a Concha Delgado Gaitan Presidential Fellow by the Council of Anthropology and Education; and a Gail P. Kelly Dissertation Award recipient by the Comparative and International Education Society for her work on equity and social justice in international contexts.

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