We are currently experiencing the largest refugee crisis of our generation. There are more refugees in the world today seeking asylum abroad than in any time in recent history. The United Nations is calling this the worst refugee crisis since World War II, marking an historical moment in itself. Millions of refugees are fleeing from Syria, which is now in its fifth year of civil war.
Across the world, countries are discussing how to handle this growing surge of refugees, and many nations, including the United States, are planning to accept thousands of refugees in the next year.
Though the direct results of this crisis are not always immediately apparent for students walking among the autumn foliage on campus, communities in the United States and abroad are gearing up to accommodate hundreds of thousands of migrants. Although the College has yet to take concrete action, the response on this side of Raymond Avenue has not been completely silent.
Earlier this month, the faculty-sponsored group, Vassar College: Solidarity for Refugees organized its first panel discussion. Ever since, this organization has been active in its response to the refugee crisis in the hopes of pushing the College to provide some concrete support to those who currently need it the most. We at The Miscellany News want to commend this group for what it has accomplished so far and what it seeks to accomplish in the future.
We also wish to commend the Vassar College Christian Fellowship’s efforts to collect clothing for refugees. This organization’s commitment to offer aid is commendable and demonstrates how orgs that are not explicitly dedicated to crisis response can still supply support.
As members of the faculty mentioned in an editorial published in the Oct. 1 issue of The Miscellany News, this is not the first international crisis to produce a sudden diaspora of millions of refugees. Forced migrants have traversed across borders and international boundaries countless times throughout history.
Significantly, Vassar has established a precedent for responding to these situations in support of those in need as an institution. According to The Miscellany News archives, Vassar students and faculty have, in the past, become involved in refugee aid movements. In the years leading up to World War II and the Holocaust, the College raised money to help establish scholarships for students and teachers fleeing Europe.
It is important that we as a community become more actively involved in the efforts to help refugees, especially in light of the fact that Vassar prides itself on being a socially conscious and progressive institution. We cannot allow ourselves to make such claims without continuing on to back it up with action.
Fortunately, students, faculty and administrators have already made clear their passion and drive for helping to alleviate this crisis and are currently mobilizing to bring more awareness to students on campus in the hopes of bringing about a more concrete answer for support. Significantly, these community groups are taking a critical approach to their work, trying to include voices from all corners of Vassar’s campus.
At a VSA Council meeting on Sunday, Cushing House President Anish Kanoria ’18 brought the efforts of VC Solidarity to the floor, urging his fellow representatives to use their influence as an institutional body to work toward making a difference. Kanoria spoke of the plans the organization has to act and spurred Council to brainstorm different ways that students can get involved in the effort.
At the meeting, response ideas included provisions of travel money to send study trips to sites of mass migration or refugee camps and funds to send students to work at NGOs acting in support of refugees seeking asylum in the United States or elsewhere.
We at The Miscellany News think these are intriguing suggestions because of the hands-on experiences that would further students’ learning and understanding of the situation while also serving to help refugees in a more immediate, practical way. However, we do also recognize that some approaches to providing aid, while beneficial to many students, can sometimes prove to be ineffective for the individuals they seek to serve.
The key moment came when one member of Council posed the question, “What do these people need the most?” We at The Miscellany News support critical thought about how we can make a meaningful difference to those seeking asylum in our country. It may no longer be most useful to offer scholarship money to migrants if other services are more beneficial, and a concerted effort should be made on the part of the College and the community at large to research what our most effective course of action could be.
The possible danger in the initiatives that are currently being considered is a kind of absent voluntourism that doesn’t actually address the realistic needs of refugees. The goal is to support real exchange and understanding while providing critical aid, not to offer a chance for a quick resume-boost.
Although it would be a valuable experience for students to work with refugees, that should not be the primary goal of any response on Vassar’s part. We want to ensure that any action on the part of the College community offers the potential for meaningful change, and focuses specifically on the needs of the population that we are serving.
It is also important in this discussion to think critically about how issues of international significance are discussed on Vassar’s campus.
We at The Miscellany News are excited by the critical discussions taking place that are being fueled by the panels and small group meetings that VC Solidarity has organized. We are encouraged by the pervasive desire to act as a community in support of those we must help. We recognize that it is easy for students on campus to become trapped in the “Vassar bubble” and lose sight of what is happening elsewhere, and we greatly appreciate the discourse among students, faculty, and administrators about how most effectively to respond to this crisis.
We hope that these discussions, events, and efforts to aid refugees continue and ultimately result in real plans for the College to play an active role in the refugee crisis. This is Vassar’s chance to be on the right side of history, and if future students are to look to us for precedent, we must make sure that what we do counts.
—The staff editorial represents at least 2/3 opinions of the editorial board of The Miscellany News.