In recent years, a global refugee crisis has captured widespread attention. Violence, persecution, natural disaster and war have forced millions of people to flee their home countries and seek refuge in other nations. Globally, the number of refugees and displaced persons has surpassed 70 million. As people all over the world continue to face displacement and exile, we must use our status and resources as an academic community to educate ourselves on this humanitarian crisis and cultivate a culture that advocates for asylum and acceptance.
Since 2001, the International Visiting Scholar in Residence program at Ithaca College has provided writer-in-residence opportunities for writers and artists who have been exiled from their home countries for reasons beyond their control. The program is a collaboration between the Honors Program and Ithaca City of Asylum, a local nonprofit that provides refuge for artists whose works are suppressed, whose lives are threatened and whose cultures are under siege. The organization is a part of the International Cities of Refuge Network, an independent organization of cities and networks that offer shelter to artists and writers at risk.
Programs like this one play a crucial role in dismantling harmful misconceptions about refugees and provide significant support to these individuals. After leaving their homes, refugees are forced to assimilate to unfamiliar societies and cultural practices, a taxing measure that often limits their abilities to connect with their own cultures and identities. The college’s Visiting Scholar in Residence program helps combat this sense of displacement by cultivating an environment of appreciation and acceptance in which selected individuals can safely express themselves.
Initiatives that connect colleges and universities with refugees not only help establish a sense of stability for the individuals seeking refuge, but also have the capacity to benefit the campus community. Engaging with people whose experiences differ from our own can help us gain a distinct consciousness of global issues and their very real impacts on members of our community. Higher–education institutions are the perfect spaces to engage in complex conversations and expand our own knowledge of the world around us.
Initiatives like the Visiting Scholar in Residence program are a prime example of how we can use our status and privilege as members of a higher–education institution to support and learn from displaced individuals. As President Donald Trump’s administration continues to promote racist and xenophobic language, it is more important than ever that we work to create inclusive communities for immigrants and refugees alike.