Nelson Mandela once said education is the most powerful weapon which we can use to change the world.
As academics, university administrators and co-curricular educators, we are tasked with providing students a learning environment where they will find the ideas, strength and encouragement to use their education to change the world.
We live in a time when great possibilities are challenged by unsubstantiated fear. In the current global political climate of increasing violent nationalism and anti-immigrant rhetoric, we are challenged with an additional responsibility: How do we help our students to deal with the points of view of those who oppose humanism?
As academic and non-academic educators at Memorial University, we are encouraged by a group of talented and dedicated students who have established a local chapter of World University Service of Canada (WUSC) on the St. John’s campus.
In partnership with WUSC headquarters in Ottawa, Ont., members of the local committee are dedicated to raising awareness about the global refugee crisis. Currently, they are going classroom to classroom to encourage Memorial undergraduate students to vote for the WUSC student refugee program at Memorial.
Memorial’s Student Refugee Program (SRP) will sponsor one refugee student annually to continue their post-secondary education in safety.
If successful, Memorial will join the 92 other campuses across Canada that are already participating in the SRP. Collectively, through the SRP, local WUSC committees sponsor 130 refugee students per year.
“Canadian post-secondary students can act as crucial bridges for refugee youth.”
The SRP represents one solution to the problem of access to higher education for refugee youth: the UNHCR estimates that only three per cent of refugees worldwide are able to access post-secondary education.
Student beneficiaries of the SRP have had great success. One recent study found that ninety-four per cent of SRP beneficiaries completed a degree after coming to Canada. These students also had access to employment and skill development opportunities through their campuses that were crucial to their success after graduating.
The WUSC-SRP model is uniquely based on the idea of youth-to-youth sponsorship. It recognizes that Canadian post-secondary students can act as crucial bridges for refugee youth, by connecting them to their own networks and by providing academic and social support.
Memorial students will vote in a referendum Nov. 5-6, wherein undergraduate students can vote in favour of a $2 per semester levy for the annual sponsorship of one refugee youth to Memorial University.
Access to education at home and away is crucial to the future of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and young people around the world who are displaced by circumstances outside of their own control.
We should all support MUN-WUSC’s work to improve access to higher education for refugee youth through the Student Refugee Program.
Building welcoming communities
Memorial students and the university community will gain from implementing the SRP.
This program engages youth advocates on campus through the WUSC’s local committee.
These local advocates gain training in leadership and advocacy and become experts on issues of forced migration.
“I paid for my own college education, and am currently paying for a degree program at MUN. I will be voting in favour of this.”
Our local WUSC-MUN committee has worked to raise awareness of global refugee issues by organizing innovative events meant to engage the student body and the broader public.
Last year, its Love Without Borders event featured a virtual reality headset that allowed students to visualize what life is like in a refugee camp.
Across Canada, WUSC-student volunteers have graduated from university and become important advocates on global issues.
Support for the Student Refugee Program at Memorial has been overwhelming.
In just three weeks, the local committee garnered more than 1,700 signatures in support of its implementation.
As one message left on MUN-WUSC’s Facebook page stated, “I paid for my own college education, and am currently paying for a degree program at MUN. I will be voting in favour of this.”
Ultimately, the SRP aligns with Memorial’s mission to create an inclusive community and to engage the university and province on issues of global importance.
How to vote, how to help
For a successful referendum, one-tenth of the total undergraduate population has to vote, with two-thirds of voters in favour of the SRP.
Memorial students can vote online via Self Service or at any MUNSU polling booth. Faculty members can support the SRP by reminding their students to vote on Nov. 5-6 by giving them five minutes at the start of class to vote.
We are deeply grateful to the WUSC-MUN local committee members who have given us hope. These students are the real heroes of our campus, promoting the idea that together Memorial students can make a big difference in many young refugees’ life.
There are 25 million forcibly displaced people around the world who are struggling to access basic needs of life, including education. WUSC-MUN student leaders are asking Memorial students to respond to the need of the hour and say “yes” to the WUSC SRP referendum.
We believe that the students of Memorial University will send a clear message to those who need our support that “another world is not only possible, she is on her way.”
By Sonja Knutson, director, Internationalization Office; Dr. Yolande Pottie-Sherman, assistant professor, Department of Geography, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences; and Arif Abu, international student advisor.