Nouf Bazaz, Ph.D. & Nicholas Cuneo, M.D. (photo by Loyola University Maryland)

Ten years ago, Nouf Bazaz, Ph.D., met Nicholas Cuneo, M.D., MPH, when they both worked at a refugee resettlement agency in Baltimore. In November 2021, Bazaz, now an assistant clinical professor of school counseling at Loyola University Maryland, and Cuneo, now an assistant professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University, co-founded the HEAL Refugee Health & Asylum Collaborative to help asylum seekers coming to the United States.

The collaborative is the first dedicated asylum clinic located in Baltimore, MD, and one of only a few asylum clinics across the United States. With Bazaz serving as the mental health director and Cuneo serving as the medical director, they bring care and supportive services to immigrant survivors of torture and trauma seeking refuge.

The HEAL Refugee Health & Asylum Collaborative is a university/community partnership among four main organizations that comprise the HEAL acronym: Johns Hopkins University (H), the Esperanza Center (E), Asylee Women Enterprise (A), and Loyola University Maryland (L).

Bazaz became a full-time faculty member at Loyola four years ago. Her clinical work, research, training, and consulting, focuses on trauma, torture, grief, and loss with survivors of war, violence, and persecution, as well as on culturally responsive care for Muslim youth and families.

“The HEAL initiative is a powerful example of how faculty scholarship and collaboration can make a difference in our communities,” says Afra Hersi, Ph.D., Dean of the School of Education at Loyola. “I admire the ways in which Dr. Bazaz has been able to connect with others in the community and bring this vision to life—and offer transformational support for the people this program supports.”

Nouf Bazaz, Ph.D. with Loyola University Maryland President Terrence M. Sawyer, J.D. (photo by Loyola University Maryland)

At Loyola’s Maryland Day Convocation on March 22, 2024, Bazaz received the University’s prestigious Faculty Award for Excellence in Community-Engaged Scholarship. The award honors a faculty member who has made extraordinary contributions in engaged scholarship—which is ideally a product of reciprocal, mutually-beneficial partnerships between the University’s knowledge centers and community agencies, persons, and other resources.

“All of Dr. Bazaz’s work is informed by an expressive arts and social justice lens,” says Cheryl Moore-Thomas, Ph.D., provost and vice president for academic affairs. “We are grateful for the work she does that helps us live out our mission as a Jesuit university—and we are proud of the impact her work has on members of our Baltimore community.”

In this Q&A, Bazaz shares more about the HEAL Collaborative and how it is serving asylum seekers in the Baltimore area.

Describe the HEAL Collaborative program.
Our mission is that through innovative partnerships and education, the HEAL Refugee Health & Asylum Collaborative expands access to responsive health care and supportive services for immigrant survivors of torture and trauma seeking refuge in the U.S. This includes forensic physical and psychological evaluations, mental health care, and other services for survivors of torture and trauma and their families. As a training clinic, we are committed to expanding the capacity of providers, students, and other trainees in the area to serve this population.

What does your role entail?
I serve as the mental health director and lead growth, development, and oversight for the mental health services of the clinic, including psychological evaluations, clinical counseling, and wider psychosocial support initiatives. I also lead mental health-related training and supervise mental health education-related activities, including teaching graduate students, supervising counselors, and mentoring new clinicians.

In addition, I provide clinical mental health counseling to adults and adolescents, and as part of our Survivors of Torture programming, I provide clinical mental health counseling to children, as well.

How does your involvement in HEAL connect to your research/scholarship?
My research/scholarship has always been in service of survivors of war and persecution. The HEAL Collaborative is a great home for research collaboration across many populations and institutions.

What are your hopes for the program?
My ultimate hope is that the systems generating war and persecution that also funnel into our very broken immigration system are dismantled. Part of that process is building healthy communities that care for one another, and I hope that the HEAL Collaborative continues to be a space where people from different backgrounds can come to heal, as well as learn and grow.

How does Loyola’s location in a destination hub for refugees impact the University?
Loyola University Maryland is built on a mission of service and cura personalis, care for the whole person. Its location in the heart of Baltimore provides an opportunity to do just that. I hope that students and faculty involved see themselves as part of the wider Baltimore ecosystem and serve in whatever capacity they can, rather than a more typical academic approach of seeing the local community as a means to just further their own research or professional agendas.

What can students and the community learn from refugees coming to Baltimore to seek asylum?
The current immigration, health, and social service system is incredibly broken. While refugees and asylum seekers experience considerable stressors in their home countries forcing them to flee, and during migration, conditions in the U.S. are also extremely challenging. That being said, our clients draw from numerous personal and community strengths. I hope that our students and community learn tangible skills to help them build a better world around us.

By Marcus Dean, Contributor for Loyola University Maryland