Last fall, the Shoval Center for Community Engagement and Learning and the study abroad office at King’s College hosted a presentation by Anas Allouz, a local student and Syrian refugee. Allouz told his family’s story of emigrating to the United States, arriving just over a year ago. He explained the joys and struggles that he and his family has faced in their journey.
Misericordia University also hosted a successful presentation featuring Allouz and his family as part of their Mercy Week programming. Additionally, Allouz shared his story in a presentation entitled “The Refugee Family Experience” at Marywood University, as part of Refugee Day, a day of programming and awareness hosted the Office of Campus Ministry. Before his talk, a candlelight vigil, outdoor prayer and procession were held in the university’s Memorial Garden.
These Catholic colleges reflect Pope Francis’ call for a Christian commitment to caring for refugees, especially in the current crisis, by raising awareness and educating their campus communities on the personal experiences of refugees.
The world is experiencing the worst refugee crisis since World War II. Around the world there are over 50 million refugees and displaced individuals, 12 million of whom were forced from their homes by the war in Syria. These circumstances demand our attention and action.
Film screening of Refugee Kids, a documentary that tells the story of refugee children participating in a summer program in New York City. The screening will take place on June 17 at 2:00 p.m. at Catholic University of America Gowan Auditorium. Brief discussion of the film will follow.
Locally resettled refugees will share their stories over food and drinks at Busboys & Poets Brookland on June 20 from 6:00-8:00 p.m.
More details on the events are available here. For those who cannot make the events, we hope you will join us in prayer for the world’s refugees on June 20.
In addition to the Catholic higher education institutions recently profiled, Villanova University has also been deeply involved in education, advocacy, and service activities around the Syrian refugee crisis.
To begin the academic year, the CRS Partnership, CRS Ambassadors, the University’s Law School Clinic for Asylum, Refugee and Emigrant Services (CARES) and the College of Nursing’s Center for Global and Public Health joined together to produce a forum on the Syria and Iraqi Refugee Crisis. On October 21, 2015, over 250 members of the Villanova community gathered to hear from representatives of each of the sponsors as well as the founder and director of the University’s Center for Arab and Islamic Studies, a former UNHCR Protection Officer in the Middle East, and a Syrian CARES client applying for asylum. Among the topics addressed were the migration path, push factors, laws governing protection, adjudicating refugee cases, impacts of refugees on the region, and what we can do in the United States. During the event, Kathleen O’Hara, Global Health and Migration Coordinator for Villanova’s CRS Ambassadors, encouraged the audience to advocate on behalf of the refugees by writing letters to President Obama and their state legislators.
To finish the fall semester, the CRS Ambassadors hosted a “Season of Solidarity” Interfaith Vigil for Syrian and Iraqi Refugees on December 3, 2015. As part of the Season of Solidarity, the Ambassadors’ ongoing awareness, service, and advocacy campaign in support of Syrians and Iraqis fleeing violence, the Vigil brought together the Villanova community to hear from University President Fr. Peter M. Donohue, OSA, CRS Student Ambassadors, Assistant to the President Fr. Kail Ellis, a refugee who fled Syria two years ago, and other CRS representatives. Together, participants and speakers prayed for the safety of those fleeing violence and for peace.
One exciting upcoming event is the “Run for Refugees 5k,” which will take place on April 15, 2016. Planned by the CRS Campus Ambassadors, all Villanova students and student organizations are invited to run or assist with the 5k, which will include opening remarks, an opening interfaith prayer, and education around the refugee crisis throughout the run. Runners will be asked to play a role as a refugee and may be stopped at a border, before they can begin running again. Runners may be asked to run carrying a baby or remove their shoes, replaced with sandals, while running. Through the 5k, the CRS Ambassadors hope to create empathy for the refugees. Register to run or volunteer!
The breadth and depth of Villanova’s efforts to increase awareness and action around the Syrian and Iraqi refugee crisis is impressive and inspiring. How is your college or university engaging in the Syrian refugee and migration crises? Let us know!
Although a recent ACCU Peace and Justice blog post featured three Catholic colleges and universities’ response to the Syrian refugee crisis, many other Catholic colleges have been working to assist refugees and advocate on their behalf.
The University of Scranton has been strongly committed to aiding refugees abroad and in the U.S., advocating for peace and for greater acceptance of refugees into the U.S., and educating its students about the crisis and inspiring them to act. The campus initiative In Solidarity with Syria seeks to combine advocacy and educational efforts.
President Kevin Quinn, SJ, wrote an editorial urging compassion for refugees in the Scranton Times-Tribune last fall. He also wrote a letter to federal elected officials urging the U.S. government to address the refugee crisis. He noted that the University was exploring how to help Syrian students interested in further education in the United States, as well as how to help refugee families that settle in the local community.
University alumni have also been extensively involved in the efforts to assist refugees. For example, Bill Canny ’77, H’07, as the executive director of Migration and Refugee Services at USCCB, has been working with DOS and the local Catholic Social Services to work towards doubling the 100,000 refugee ceiling that the government has set for 2017.
Finally, the university has been working hard to educate students on campus about the refugee crisis. Led by Anitra McShea, Ph.D., the vice provost for student formation and campus life, In Solidarity with Syria has taken off in various directions. The initiative has brought to the university activities such as The Refugee Simulation, in which participants walk through five stations that simulate the typical refugee experience. Students are then encouraged to learn about and work with refugees in the local community.
The University has also encouraged deeper academic and informal discussions on the refugee crisis and has implored its students, staff, and faculty to, as Dr. McShea puts it, “utilize [their] gifts, talents and collective resources (intellectual, fiscal) to serve those marginalized and persecuted in our global community.”
How has your college or university responded to the Syrian refugee crisis? Let us know!
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, that is the estimated number of people currently affected by the conflict in Syria. As Professor Neha Agarwal of La Roche College commented during a campus activity focused on the refugee crisis, “It’s easy for us to picture 100 of something, but wrapping our heads around a number as staggering as 12 million is very difficult.”
Helping people in the United States imagine the sheer magnitude of the problem is only the beginning of what Catholic colleges and universities such as La Roche are doing in response to the Syrian refugee crisis.
During the 2015–16 academic year, ACCU member institutions have demonstrated their deep commitment to welcoming the stranger and educating their students, faculty, and staff on the importance of doing so. One manifestation of this commitment can be found at Niagara University. In conjunction with Catholic Charities of Buffalo and New York’s Immigration and Refugee Assistance Services, the university’s College of Hospitality and Tourism Management recently graduated its third cohort of 15 students from a program specifically for refugees. The eight-week Hospitality and Tourism Training Institute trains participants in skills that help them “pave a sustainable career path,” says Niagara University president Rev. James J. Maher.
Deborah T. Curtis, CMP, director of Niagara’s Edward A. Brennan Center for Language, Culture and Leadership, has been the energy behind the program since its inception. Under her direction, the program has graduated 37 refugees—women and men from around the world, ranging in age from 19 to 60. The program consists of morning lessons in hospitality and afternoon English language courses, as well as excursions to local hotels and tourist attractions. The students also engage in a two-week internship at a partnering hotel, after which they are offered positions either at the internship site or another local hotel. The Institute helps the students combine their new skills in hospitality and in the English language to create “an opportunity to move up,” Curtis says. Because the students all come to the United States as refugees, she adds, “by definition . . . they’ve had some serious hardships.”
Other Catholic colleges are doing what Catholic colleges do: educating students about issues and grounding them in faith-based values. Last November, the La Roche College Office of Global Engagement collaborated with the college’s Design Division to focus part of International Education Week on the Syrian refugee crisis. The Refugee Experience event also was incorporated into the La Roche Experience (LRX), a required course sequence that introduces students to Catholic principles of peace and justice, diversity, and conflict prevention.
Asking students to imagine an equivalent to 12 million was one activity during the week. After design students drew selected visual representations of 12 million on a large poster, participants engaged in small-group discussion on the refugee crisis. Finally, all participants strung together a chain of 12 million pre-counted beads, each representing one person affected by the Syrian conflict.
Agarwal, chair of the La Roche graphic design department, explains that the goal of the program was to “come up with several equivalents to 12 million and visualize them in order to help viewers really understand the enormity of the situation.”
In addition to helping La Roche students grasp the magnitude of the refugee crisis, the program allowed participants to process the situation, as the students “opened up and felt confident enough to share their thoughts” in the discussion groups, she says. “In line with the college’s mission to promote peace, justice, and global citizenry,” Agarwal adds, the Refugee Experience program at La Roche has grown out of a commitment to preparing the college community to more actively and knowledgeably welcome the stranger and serve its neighbors.
Change of Plans
After a month of what should have been a two-month backpacking trip in the Mediterranean, Colleen Sinsky, a recent graduate of Santa Clara University, did something unexpected.
Her trek had taken her to Lesvos, a small Greek island where Syrian refugees had been stopping on their perilous journey to Europe. Sinsky decided to leave her traveling companion and travel to Lesvos after noticing Syrian refugees sleeping under a bridge, according to a university news article.
For the remainder of her time in Europe, Sinsky volunteered with A Drop in the Ocean, a rescue group from Norway. According to the article, Sinsky spent her days “helping refugees off boats… manning a lookout tower for boats in distress; providing tea, warm clothing, and a compassionate ear to refugees in the camp; cleaning beaches of castoff belongings,” and more.
After returning home, her experience in Lesvos inspired Sinsky to write about the experiences of the refugees on a blog titled, “I’d Rather Be Here Now.” Her goal is to “advocate for a more compassionate refugee resettlement program in the [United States] by humanizing the victims” of the Syrian conflict, Sinsky writes. She credits her education at Santa Clara with helping her “better understand the problem of labeling, scapegoating, and demonizing Muslims” and allowing her writing to “come to life with details and drama.”
Looking forward, she says, “I would like to incorporate storytelling for social justice into whatever it is that I do.”
Her time at Santa Clara University clearly shaped Sinsky’s ability to share her experiences living with refugees. And, as all these examples show, Catholic higher education is uniquely positioned not only to change students’ thinking about humanitarian crises, but also to help improve the lives of individuals around the globe.
Justine Worden is an undergraduate student at Georgetown University and the Peace and Justice Intern at the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.