Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Denise C. Bates

Committee Members

Hillary N. Fouts, Tricia M. Redeker-Hepner, Marsha L. Spence


The purpose of this study was to describe the experiences of becoming a refugee among Burundian refugees resettled in Knoxville, Tennessee and to determine if these experiences shape how they define and perceive safety in their living environments. Specifically, the following research questions were addressed: 1) How is neighborhood safety defined among Burundians with refugee status residing in Knoxville, Tennessee? 2) How do participants perceive safety in their African living environments? 3) How do participants perceive safety in their current living environments? 4) How do these experiences compare and contrast?

Participants were recruited through purposeful sampling. Concept mapping and face-to-face interviews were conducted with twenty (20) participants. An exploratory, grounded theory approach was used to answer the study questions. Modified grounded theory methods guided data collection and analysis. Follow-up interviews were conducted with seven participants to expand upon the emerging framework developed from the initial interviews by exploring different dimensions of the ideas. A key informant interview was conducted with a community gatekeeper to provide insight to the nature of participant responses, to gain further understanding of participant responses, and fill in the gaps in the developing framework.

Participant experiences as refugees in Africa seem to be significant to definitions of safety among Burundian refugees living in Knoxville. These experiences influenced their perceptions of safety in their neighborhoods in the United States. Participants defined neighborhood safety in terms of three interrelated variables: experiences with victimization, protection from victimization, and involvement in supportive interpersonal relationships. In examining their experiences, Participants described contrasting experiences in the two locations. The categories “experiencing decreased threat,” “finding security,” and “maintaining personal social networks” describe the comparative experiences of participants. Central to their descriptions was the core category “becoming free from distress.” The theory describing participant meanings of safety was “finding peace.” This theory of neighborhood safety among a refugee sample has potential to inform local resettlement policy.

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