A Call to Address the Refugee Crisis

This week I sent the following message asking for ideas on how we can address the refugee crisis to Wesleyan students, faculty and alumni. I have been in touch with other university presidents about collaborating in this regard. Some have asked “why this issue?” Others wonder if it is the “university’s business” to try to crowd source ideas on political/social issues. This is a momentous human tragedy unfolding around the world, and I  have hopes that tapping into the ideas of our community (and other university groups) will, at a minimum, raise awareness about it, and, perhaps, result in some concrete, practical actions. Wesleyan has had a long commitment to “the good of the world,” to use Wilbur Fisk’s words, and not just to ourselves. Let’s see what we can do!

Please send your ideas to: ideas@wesleyan.edu


Many of us have been horrified by images of thousands of refugees from Syria (and elsewhere) struggling to make their way to safety. Some governments are beginning to welcome thousands displaced by war and violence, while others actively discourage asylum seekers. I have been particularly appalled by the actions and rhetoric of xenophobic leaders (and would-be leaders) bringing fascistic hatred back to public life. But what can we do about it?

My wife (and COL professor) Kari Weil and I began talking about what positive actions we at universities might take, and she suggested I turn to the Wes community for ideas. I raised the issue at the first faculty meeting of the year. 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? There will be panels and teach-ins—formal and informal. Should our role also be one of advocacy, or should we try to find ways to sponsor a group of people who need asylum? Should we focus on educating our own folks about these issues, or should we make more direct interventions (perhaps with other schools)? What other ideas do you have?

We can certainly petition the White House to dramatically increase the numbers of Syrian refugees being allowed into the United States. President Obama could make a “Presidential Determination” to increase the 2015 number of 70,000 refugees to 200,000 for 2016 and prioritize receiving 100,000 Syrian refugees within this number. We can donate to organizations assisting the most vulnerable of those seeking asylum. We can work with Middletown towards becoming a “Welcoming City,” or establish internships for students who want to help. Ideas like these have come in from alumni, students and faculty members, and I want to collect suggestions from all sectors of the Wesleyan community. I am also writing to other university leaders to see if they might do something similar and how we might pool our ideas. Perhaps we can come up with actions that will actually help on the ground. In any case, we are sure to learn a lot about a vital issue in the process.

Please send in your ideas to ideas@wesleyan.edu 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 consult with alumni working in the field and report back on this topic on my blog and in newsletters later this semester.

Being horrified is not enough. Our mission statement evokes “practical idealism.” Let’s live up to it!

1 thought on “A Call to Address the Refugee Crisis”

  1. It appears that everyone is looking at the wrong issues. These refugees have a natural right to security in their homes. Those who initiate force are criminals. If they are too many for local law enforcement then government, is that not what United Nations is about? Initiating force is not justified by calling it war or casualties of war. Unsubstantiated rumors are the guise of reasoning behind all wars, participants are misguided children forsaken by their elders. Any innocent who is damaged is due remedy from the perpetrator. These criminals are a small percentage of the effected group (which now includes neighboring countries). Is the whole world going to forgive and succumb to criminals and accommodate the victims rather than command remedy? Do criminals have no need to fear of retaliation? Where is law? Where is leadership? Where is John Wayne?

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