Lizzie Edwards ’21 (she/her) double majored in Anthropology and Environmental Studies and minored in Middle Eastern Studies. While at Wesleyan, her senior capstone project, Politics of Thirst: Privatized Water, the Shadow State, and Citizenship Claims in Jordan, examined how water has become a key medium in which state responsibility is being privatized as well as the water access of refugees, low-income Jordanians, and elite residents. Here she shares her experience volunteering with the Student Voices for Refugees program of the University Alliance for Refugees & At-Risk Migrants (UARRM).
Last year, as a senior at Wesleyan, I wanted to find ways to connect the Wesleyan Refugee Project (WRP) to other college groups doing similar work. My WRP co-coordinator, Jiyoon Park ‘21, and I reached out to groups across the country and we found out that another school was organizing a virtual meeting for refugee-assistance college groups based in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. At the meeting, a student organizer from the Student Voices for Refugees program of the University Alliance for Refugees & At-Risk Migrants (UARRM) presented about their organization and invited us to apply to volunteer. Around the same time, Jiyoon and I were researching whether it would be possible for Wesleyan to one day offer scholarships for students with a background of forced migration. We knew that several universities, including Columbia University, already offered such scholarships and the demand was high. I decided to get involved with the UARRM’s Student Voices for Refugees program so that I could learn firsthand how higher education institutions could set up their own scholarship programs or better partner with existing programs.
After a short application process, I started volunteering and conducting research around college entrance mentorship programs geared toward students with displacement backgrounds. Along with other volunteers, I contacted national and global organizations offering mentorship programs and interviewed a wide range of initiatives: ones for domestic refugee students, ones for international refugee students, and ones based in other countries. The most impactful experience of volunteering with Student Voices for Refugees was having the opportunity to talk with both staff and participants of these programs. I conducted interviews via Zoom and then wrote reports about what each of these organizations offered, their goals, and their impact. I also collected recommendations from participants about what kinds of support they would have appreciated from higher education institutions. All of the interviews that I and other volunteers conducted were then analyzed by other volunteers to identify trends in key challenges, as well as to provide recommendations. This information was used to create two guides: a university guide on how to create a more welcoming campus for domestic and overseas refugees and a student-advocate guide.
One of the incredible organizations I researched, Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS), is located in New Haven, Connecticut, about a half hour from Wesleyan. A major take-away I gained from my interview with Tanya Genn, the youth services manager at IRIS, and Aamir Kahn, a program participants, is that there are too few opportunities for Connecticut students with a background of forced displacement. In my interview, Tanya noted that many of the clients she works with at IRIS want to be close to their families or have responsibilities that make it difficult for them to go to school far away. She wishes that more universities and colleges would speak with immigrants and refugees in their communities to ask them what they need to make higher education more accessible. I hope more universities will do this, as I believe it’s important for university programs to be in true collaboration with the communities they are partnering with.
Click here to get involved with Student Voices for Refugees. My interviews and the interviews of other volunteers can be found on UARRM’s Multimedia Toolkit.
Lizzie Edwards ’21 (she/her) has been involved with refugee resettlement efforts in Connecticut for the last four years through Wesleyan Refugee Project (WRP), an organization that partners Wesleyan students with local refugee resettlement agencies and international refugee assistance organizations. Lizzie has interned with several organizations, including the refugee resettlement office of Jewish Family Service of San Diego and Reclaim Childhood, a peacebuilding organization which provides programming to Jordanian and refugee youth. She is currently in Bonn, Germany for a year as a Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) for Young Professionals fellow, a fully funded U.S. and German government joint scholarship. She is studying in the Master of Political Science program at University of Bonn and will be working in the field of refugee resettlement for six months.