How Can We Help Refugee Situation?

It’s an exciting time of year. Classes are just getting underway, and new students are getting to know the campus while many others are reconnecting with friends and teachers. Even though I’m the kind of person can easily get used to the rhythms of summertime, I just love the beginning of the school year. Tonight I met my philosophy and film class. After all these years, I still had butterflies just before class…

After we went over the syllabus, we watched two short films that deal with people displaced from their homes and their communities, often with the most awful consequences. When we watched the chilling images, I am sure lots of us were thinking about contemporary refugees fleeing Syria and other places of poverty, oppression and gruesome murder.

Many of us have been horrified by the response to the thousands of refugees struggling to get into Europe. I have been particularly appalled by the actions and rhetoric of xenophobic leaders who are bringing fascistic hatred back to public life. But what can we do about it?

Over the weekend Kari and I were talking about what we at universities might do, and we thought it would be an important question to put to our Wesleyan community. What can we do about this refugee crisis? As a university, a place devoted to learning and building community, what can we do to lend a hand in this terrible time? Should our role be one of advocacy, or should we try to find ways to sponsor a group of people who need asylum? Should we step out as a single institution, or work with other colleges and universities? What other ideas do you have?

I want to collect your suggestions and to talk about them with folks from different parts of the Wesleyan community. Perhaps we can come up with actions that will help, and we are sure to learn some things in the process.

Please send in your thoughts (either to this blog comment or to and stay tuned for other ways to participate as we think together about how we can respond to this acute crisis. I’ll share suggestions I get with Professor Rob Rosenthal, director of the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life, and talk with faculty, staff and student representatives about how we might proceed. I’ll write again on this topic within the month.

Our mission statement evokes “practical idealism.” Let’s live up to it!

4 thoughts on “How Can We Help Refugee Situation?”

  1. Michael, I applaud your initiative in seeking ways that we might become involved in helping refugees from Syria (and perhaps elsewhere). I look forward to a community-wide discussion. I think there are multiple ways in which Wesleyan can get involved. As academics many of us, and certainly you, are already engaged in a public forum to express our ideas on issues. Just as you use blogs and this website to propose innovative ideas in higher education, so too we might use our ‘moral suasion’ to try to awaken public concern in the U.S. about the refugee crisis. This is NOT just Europe’s crisis. We have an ocean separating us from the refugees, and we have xenophobia enough at home (e.g. Mr. Trump). So our first task to to increase the voice for the US to get engaged.
    Second, a concrete action that is on so small a level (given 100s of 1000s of refugees), but that would carry symbolic weight, Wesleyan might offer to identify and welcome a refugee who is a scholar (one thinks of the refugees from Nazi Germany who found positions at The New School in the 1930s). And of course, we should sponsor a conference on the issue, a conference aimed not only at our own scholarly community, but also at the broader community (via media coverage).
    Again, thank you so much for taking this initiative.

    Peter Mark

  2. While I am not a member of your immediate community, I applaud you for seeking ways to address this issue. I represent several groups at King University (Bristol, TN), and we are actively raising funds to help World Vision provide humanitarian assistance to Syrian refugees. Our faculty and students are enthusiastic about this, and we will be holding fundraisers and raising awareness throughout the year. Our community has stepped up and is offering assistance as well. Seeing other universities try to tackle this issue is very encouraging.

    Gail Helt

  3. Hi Michael,
    Thanks for opening this conversation. Like Peter, I imagined inviting a scholar…but I had thought of a student! So, maybe bringing a professor and student — or more than one person, in any case, so that they could have company. I imagine it would be very hard to go to a new place alone. Perhaps several colleges could take similar initiatives, & then get their sponsored guests together once in a while (for academic exchanges as well as socializing).
    Best wishes,

  4. Michael: Now that’s what I call leadership. I am proud that you are out front on this tragic issue, one that will, and must, change our view, our perspective and our lives. We cannot ignore this human tragedy, and we must find a way for everyone to help stem the tide of human misery that can only lead to more. Thank you.

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