Jody Kleinberg-Biehl: Finding Refuge in Buffalo

Portrait of Jody Kleinberg-Biehl.

When ELN Faculty Fellow Jody Kleinberg-Biehl took study abroad students to Germany in 2016 at the height of the refugee crisis, she didn’t expect impacts from that trip to continue into 2019, and likely beyond. The students got swept up by the topic, volunteering at a refugee shelter and then writing stories on what they observed. “It was a really intense experience,” Jody says of the 2016 trip, “and I realized how valuable that hands-on experience was for the students to understand the world around them and themselves.”

When Jody came back from the trip, she wanted to find a way to replicate those experiences in Buffalo. She immersed herself in the large refugee community here, getting to know people and communities on a personal level and listening to their stories. She then started getting students involved, pairing students in her advanced journalism class with refugees, whose stories they chronicled.

But Jody wanted to tell an even bigger story. As she continued with the project and talked with more refugees, she began to notice the parallels between their stories and the stories of Irish, Italian, Polish, German and other immigrants whose families had come to Buffalo as early as 1840 and whose descendants have now been here for generations. She began to interview these descendants, as well, gathering their stories and drawing connections to the experiences of current refugees.

This work has all led up to an exhibit, titled “Finding Refuge in Buffalo,” showcasing 24 of these stories, each a vivid and unique tale. The exhibit will move to galleries around the city over the next year. Jody hopes that this exhibit will build bridges between the different groups of immigrants and that this will help the Buffalo community begin to understand who these people are. “These are people in our community and they’re part of us. Yet we walk past them not knowing their stories. I want people to see that these people have stories, too, and they have this amazing courage that you wouldn’t know about unless you stopped to ask and to listen.”

“Finding Refuge in Buffalo” will open at WBFO studios on May 10, 2019 at 5:30 p.m., and it will run until June 2. It then moves to the Argus Gallery June 28-July 20. The Experiential Learning Network was thrilled to support this project through our Faculty Fellows program. Visit us in 24 Capen or talk to Christina Heath or Mara Huber about your interests and how the program could facilitate your engagement with local or global partners!

Written by Amanda Hellwig ‘19