A refugee is defined as someone who is forced to leave their own country to escape conflict or persecution. There are currently 21 million refugees around the world – the highest figure ever recorded. In the face of these striking and heartbreaking statistics, higher education institutions and UNA-USA campus chapters across the U.S. are demonstrating that they stand #WithRefugees. Students are important partners who play leadership roles in their college communities to support refugees and other initiatives led by the United Nations.
Students on your campus can access a free “GenUN” student membership to UNA-USA to join our national initiative to engage and energize fellow supporters around UN issues such as refugees.
Learn about a few examples from across the country that you can bring to your campus:
Student Organizations and Initiatives
Student organizations can host awareness campaigns, fundraisers, and “case competitions” to support refugees. Case competitions and “Hack-athons” are popular ways to crowdsource possible solutions to global problems. The UNA-USA UCLA chapter launched a case competition to help solve the Syrian refugee crisis. To participate, teams had to donate $10 to UNA-USA’s Adopt a Future initiative to provide educational access to refugee children. The UNA-USA Bryn Mawr chapter hosted a supply drive on campus in partnership with a local refugee resettlement agency. UNA-University of Central Florida collaborated with their local community UNA chapter in Orlando to support UNA-USA’s Adopt-a-Future Back to School Program.
If you need connections, seek out University departments that support service-learning and community affairs. They often have links to community non-profits that support refugees. There are many other examples of educational awareness campaigns, fundraising, and advocacy initiatives students can implement on campus; see more on the GenUN Website and consider starting a chapter on your campus.
Academic Offerings and Research
Colleges and universities can provide students with opportunities for course work and experiential learning focused on global problems, drawing on insights from multiple disciplines. This fall, Stanford University is offering a Hacking for Diplomacy course that allows students to work on global problems such as the Syrian refugee crisis, countering violent extremism, and fighting illegal fishing. Colleges and universities can also target some of their research scholarships to allow students to work on real-world problems. Students can apply for existing on-campus grants and partner with faculty to pursue research for academic credit that addresses these issues as well.
Every Campus a Refuge
Now, more than ever, private colleges and universities can play a pivotal role in housing and resettling refugees. Diya Abdo, associate professor of English at Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina founded Every Campus a Refuge, an initiative which calls on every college and university around the world to host one refugee family on their campus grounds and assist them in resettlement. Guilford College hosted a Ugandan and two Syrian families on its campus grounds in College apartments and houses. Guilford’s campus community assisted them in their resettlement in Greensboro and continues to maintain connections with them after their "graduation" from campus.
Abdo’s “Every Campus a Refuge” campaign began in the fall of 2015, and faculty and students from about a dozen schools have already expressed interest. Rollins College and Agnes Scott College have joined the effort to take on hosting a refugee family on campus. Through Rollins' “Refugees In Residence” program, the program has offered assistance in the form of transitional resources available on a college campus, such as ESL learning, housing, cultural integration, job openings where appropriate, and supply drives. The school wide committee that oversees the program includes staff and faculty members, and plans to include current students in the planning and implementation process. Stakeholders include Residence Life, Student Affairs, and faculty from the Political Science department. Rollins College also partners with community partners such as Catholic Charities, a large provider of local refugee resettlement services.
Scholarships for Refugee Students
While access to higher education averages about 32 percent across the world, among refugees it is less than 1 percent. In the US, 60 colleges have joined a coalition to provide resources to Syrian refugee students. One hundred and fifty Syrians have been awarded scholarships through the initiative. The University of Southern California, for example, will be providing full scholarships to six refugee students in the coming year. Some colleges like Bard are making their overseas branches easier to get into. The Institute of International Education has formed the Syria Consortium to connect Syrian students and scholars with opportunities at campuses around the world.