As a refugee and transfer student, Public Relations alumni Jean Luc Dushime ’10 understands the significance of starting fresh. As he faced the challenge of navigating college in a foreign country, Champlain College provided Dushime with the necessary tools and skills to forge his own path. Today, he is a talented photographer and a program manager at Population Media, where he uses radio storytelling to educate and empower listeners in Liberia, Ethiopia, and Burkina Faso about women’s rights, population stabilization, and environmental issues.

Dushime recently shared his personal story with us this fall, when he returned to campus to celebrate Champlain Weekend and discuss his work in the context of Digital Humanities, a new major and emerging field that will shape the future of storytelling.

Taking the First Steps

In 2004, Dushime resettled in the United States as a refugee from Rwanda, and brought with him a degree in journalism from France. He enrolled at the Community College of Vermont (CCV), where he soon connected with Champlain College and was able to transfer smoothly with help from the Registrar and Admissions teams, and support of the New American Scholarship. “That process made it easy for me as someone who was still learning how to navigate the American education system. They’re very informative, very supportive, and, at the end when I transferred, I already had a good amount of credit that I was able to carry on,” Dushime recalls.

However, adjusting to a new country and educational environment, particularly as a Black man in predominantly white institutions, posed additional challenges. Fortunately, Champlain’s Office of Diversity & Inclusion offered a welcoming community. “These people really created an environment where I think a lot of us felt very comfortable, felt heard, and were very engaged on campus. There were a lot of events and a lot of retreats they organized where students of color came together with other students to engage in justice.” 

Jean Luc Dushime speaks at a podium in Liberia.
Dushime kicks off a new multimedia project for Population Media Center in Monrovia, Liberia, 2023.

Finding Your Passions

During his time at Champlain, Dushime explored journalism and public relations before focusing on PR, but outside of that he was able to explore an entirely new form of expression: photography. It was pure luck from a campus raffle that he was able to purchase his first camera. “I think my junior year there was a raffle on campus. And then somehow I won. And I won an Xbox, so they gave me a gift card to go to Best Buy to get whatever Xbox I wanted. Instead of an Xbox, I got a camera.” 

From there he was able to reflect on his life through photos and even worked in a photography studio for his senior capstone project. “When I pick up the camera, there’s a shield in front of me somehow. I’m not necessarily reliving the situations I’ve been through, I’m documenting them,” Dushime reflects.

Photography has offered Dushime global opportunities to capture untold stories, prompting him to ponder the depths of humanity further. “There’s something about humanity that I’m curious to know. I think because of my past experience of seeing how far humans can go, to do horrible things or to do courageous things. I start asking myself questions about myself and all people: What makes us think? What makes us do what we do?” he says. 

A significant crowd gathers around a theatrical performer on the streets in Liberia.
A participatory theater event to promote behavior change around gender based violence and model positive behaviors regarding social cohesion in Liberia, 2023.

Staying Courageous

Recognizing his unique background, Dushime’s professors played a key role in facilitating his success at Champlain. As a small school, the college emphasizes small class sizes and personalized support from faculty, which Dushime can attest to. “They were not only looking at me as another student with grading and stuff like that, but they also understood that there was a layer to me that makes me different from other students. They would provide extra support or they would check on me if I was stressed, if I didn’t understand something, if I was confused.”

Between his professors, advisors, and the Office of Diversity & Inclusion (ODI), Dushime had a whole team of Champlain cheerleaders rooting for his success. At their encouragement, he recalls participating in the annual Elevator Pitch competition. While he didn’t win, he learned a lesson that day about perceived failure. “I realized that the thing that I’m walking away with is to stay courageous, because my journey has not been easy, and it’s not going to get easier. But, as long as I stay courageous, keep aiming higher, and keep pushing, things are going to turn out to be alright.”

In fact, he received an award from the ODI for the courage he demonstrated stepping out of his comfort zone and putting himself out there in front of an audience. It turns out, that award would mark a turning point in Dushime’s life, to live life to the fullest. He’s since displayed his photos in Burlington galleries, moved to and from Los Angeles, earned a master’s degree, traveled around the world, earned awards for his storytelling work, and remained connected to Champlain. 

“I like the idea of staying open and being courageous to live, to explore a new path, and to make connections,” he says. “I think so far it hasn’t failed me, and I will not change for anything because I think it’s really who I am.”

Kaitie Catania

More Inside The View