February 8 2018

Shared Justice, an initiative of the Center for Public Justice, named junior international relations student Emily Miller and Assistant Professor of International Relations Timothy Taylor winners of the Student-Faculty Research Prize on Thursday, Feb. 1.  While students from 15 schools in the Council for Christian Colleges and University applied for this competitive prize in November, three students and their faculty advisors were awarded the research prize. Miller will research the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and its use within DuPage County’s refugee population. WIC is a federal assistance program which provides benefits to low-income pregnant or nursing mothers and children of five years or younger.

Miller seeks to find out aspects of the WIC program that could be done differently, through the work of translators or increased involvement of the church. “I’m really interested to see how different institutions, like churches and schools and World Relief, play into refugee women being able to take advantage of [the WIC program],” she told the Record.

Miller’s study will be funded by Shared Justice, which was formed in 2012 by the Center for Public Justice, a nonpartisan organization that aims to use policy research and civic education to pursue God’s call to carry out justice, according to their website. It focuses on college students and young Christians who care about justice and politics. According to Katie Thompson, program director and editor at Shared Justice, this is the inaugural year of the organization’s Student-Faculty research awards.

The application process, which required a series of essays, began after Miller learned of the opportunity from Taylor, her advisor and professor. She wrote about her personal view of justice as a Christian, drafted a proposal of the research design and explained her reasons for wanting to study refugees and the WIC program. After submitting her application in November, she was deemed a finalist in December, and the award winners were announced Feb. 1.

To equip the recipients of the prize for their projects, Shared Justice hosted an orientation day last month in Washington D.C. Recipients and their advisors learned more about the Center for Public Justice and were able to discuss their research plans and goals with employees from Shared Justice.

Miller is partnering with World Relief for this semester-long project. According to Alison Bell, senior resettlement manager at World Relief DuPage, Miller’s research will strive to assess the level to which refugee women and children utilize the WIC program. “[World Relief] was really excited about what she’s doing,” Taylor said. “We talked to their main person in charge of research, and she knew all the research about refugees on a whole host of topics. She said, ‘I’ve never read a paper in my life focused on WIC and refugees.’”

“Very little research has been done on the extent of WIC utilization by refugees or on barriers that refugees may face in accessing or utilizing WIC benefits,” said Bell on the impact Miller’s research will yield. “Understanding the extent of their use and learning about barriers to use of the WIC program will help World Relief and our community partners to better assist women in making full use of the WIC program.”

Originally, Miller planned to research women who are and are not using the WIC program. After discovering that all local refugee women and children are part of the program, she instead determined to find whether or not the families are taking advantage of WIC so that changes can be implemented. She will accompany a case worker and conduct informal interviews to learn the women’s views of the WIC program. Approaching women who have been here for varying lengths of time, she plans to ask questions about their understanding of it, any difficulties they have encountered and if they noticed a difference because of it. Through World Relief, she will obtain secondary data on the women’s skill acquisition, health and adjustment to living in the United States.

Miller’s interest in the project intersects from two different longstanding passions: her appreciation for federal assistance and her experience with refugees.  Before coming to Wheaton, Miller took a gap year. She lived in Jordan for five months where over 600,000 Syrian refugees were staying, and she volunteered with Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon where there are approximately one million Syrian refugees.

“Those two countries in the Middle East really gave me a face and a name and solid friendships to go behind this crisis. I saw their situation in these camps just upon arriving, and that led me to go back the next summer and intern again in Jordan in the refugee camps,” Miller said. During her time in the Middle East, Miller met people who were forced to leave their nation and have been afflicted with trauma, violence and at times, torture. Her experience ignited her desire to pursue a career in the legal representation of refugees and now helps her understanding of the refugee population she is focusing on in DuPage County.

“I think God’s intention for humans and for larger institutions is to institute the goodness that He had originally intended back into a fallen world,” Miller said. She hopes to study Arabic at the graduate level and aspires to become an asylum adjudicator, helping refugees navigate the legal system and enter the United States.