The arts and humanities college partnered with the Office of Diversity & Inclusion and the Office of International Affairs to foster a discussion about the ongoing refugee crisis in the country and what students at this university can do to help.

Sheri Parks, the director for the Center for Synergy and the associate dean for research and interdisciplinary programming in the arts and humanities college, organized the “Thinkathon,” hoping to implement a “think and do” model to involve students in the discussion.

About 15 students gathered for the workshop Friday morning in Stamp Student Union.

“We believe that, along with faculty and staff, students care about major issues of our time, such as the refugee crisis,” Parks said. “We have students here who have been refugees or are the children of refugees.”

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Yasmine Taeb, a legislative representative for human rights and civil liberties at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, spoke about the crisis and its human impact at the event. She said the present crisis is devastating and more than 8 million refugees are internally displaced in Syria.

As part of the committee, Taeb lobbies and advocates about refugee-related issues with congressional offices in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. 

“Refugees coming to the U.S. are by far the most scrutinized community of entrance to the U.S.,” Taeb said. “We just don’t feel as though the U.S.’s response to the crisis has been adequate; their response has been quite tepid, at best.” 

Hiba Salih, program manager for youth and health at the International Rescue Committee in Baltimore, and Tyler Stoddard, its development coordinator, also came to talk about the work they do for refugees. Salih, a former refugee from Sudan, explained the difficulties of the life of a refugee coming to this country.

“The major challenges are the trauma that they have been through,” Salih said. “Having to adapt to a new country, new systems … they haven’t seen civilization.”

The IRC is one of nine primary resettling agencies in the country, Stoddard said. There are thousands of refugees in the Baltimore area, and the organization’s Baltimore branch resettles about 1,100 each year, he added.

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The discussion moved on to talk about refugee youth, who Salih said are an important part of the crisis. She said young refugee children can sometimes struggle with entering new schools and interacting with other children in the United States.

Emily Warheit, a graduate student in the arts and humanities college, proposed that there should be programs to help refugee kids with integration into schools.

“An after school program that includes other students … and having something that could increase refugee children’s feelings on inclusion and getting to know other students [would be beneficial],” she said.

The goal of the event was to use the power of art and culture to address this crisis effectively, Parks said.

“[The crisis] is one of the most urgent issues of our time. … This event is a continuation of work to use art to address trauma,” Parks said. “This is an opportunity to do what universities do best: to produce and apply knowledge in new ways.”