Patrick Oathout: 'Self Confidence Comes From Experience, Not Accomplishments'

Senior Patrick Oathout has explored many areas of interest at Duke: he is a public policy and philosophy double major and art history minor, he has taught English to Libyan, Iraqi and Syrian refugees, he was student body vice president, and he wrote weekly columns on leadership, politics and international affairs for the Duke Chronicle, to name just a few.

Oathout's achievements have not gone unnoticed. He was one of two Duke students named a Truman Scholar, on the basis of leadership potential, high academic achievement and commitment to a career in public service and advocacy. The scholarship provides priority admission and $30,000 for graduate study. He is also a Point Scholar, a scholarship that recognizes LGBTQ leaders.

In addition, in April of last year, Chelsea Clinton praised Oathout in her TIME Magazine article for his work on Uhuru Mobile, a mobile application that allows refugees to easily advertise start-ups. The app allows users to communicate with businesses they are interested in supporting. It came out of Oathout's 2011 participation in Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U), where he became the CGI U campus representative for Duke and pledged to complete a social entrepreneurship project.

According to Oathout, the app acts in a similar way to Yelp but is for small, refugee-owned businesses. His idea was that resettled refugees are much more successful and need less government assistance if they are able to continue using the skills that they employed in their native country.

He named the app for the Swahili word for freedom to signify the economic freedom that the app could, in theory, provide to the refugees. He was able to gauge its success while in Jordan by getting operational and design feedback from the refugees there. He developed a similar mobile app, called SLGT (Support Local, Grow Together) while interning for the city of Houston.

Oathout saw the opportunity to fuse some of his greatest interests in his public policy honors thesis project, "The Resettlement of LGBTQ Cuban Refugees."

"I've always been interested in foreign policy and international politics, but I have also been interested in immigration too. Growing up in Texas, immigration was an issue that I had always heard a lot about and often discussed with my peers as well, so it was an intersection of those two areas that attracted me to refugees initially," he said.

The summer before he started at Duke, Oathout interned with Church World Services through Duke's pre-orientation program, Project Change. He worked with refugees who had resettled in Durham. The following year, he took a job at African Immigrant and Refugee Foundation, a refugee resettlement organization in Washington D.C., where he mentored students and assisted with grant applications. His interest eventually led him to Jordan where he spent a summer teaching English to refugees of different ethnicities. Oathout saw his honors thesis project as a great opportunity to approach the subject from a policy perspective. 

The issue of LGBTQ refugees was especially interesting to Oathout, partly because there has been little research on the topic. It has recently become more salient with instances of targeted violence against Cuban LGBTQ refugees as well as increasing recognition of LGBTQ rights in the United States. Oathout studied treatment of this group of refugees after resettling in the United States, focusing on how resettlement agencies, which are largely religiously affiliated, helped them find housing and accommodate many of their needs. 

"I was actually fairly surprised that despite these agencies largely have religious associations that don't generally accept LGBTQ lifestyles, they were very proactive in working with these people. There is a lot of room for improvement, but what is really reassuring is that these agencies were not looking at these individuals as sinful in any way—at least the ones that I worked with—and had the right approach," said Oathout. 

Oathout plans to pursue a joint graduate degree in law and foreign service. But first, he will head to Greece on a  Fulbright Scholarship after spending the summer working in the Populations, Refugee and Migrants Office of the U.S. State Department. 

"I came to Duke just off the wait-list, eager to prove myself and worried I wouldn't find  my niche," Oathout said. "I have since found that self-confidence doesn't come from titles or accomplishments, but experiences. Duke offered me incredible opportunities for growth and personal development. I am a better person because of this school and I'll be forever thankful," he said.