What initially started at Vassar College as Vassar Refugee Solidarity in late summer 2015 in response to the arrival in Europe of hundreds of thousands of forcibly displaced individuals, grew into a much more ambitious initiative, when in April 2016 Vassar, Bard (Annandale and Berlin), Bennington, and Sarah Lawrence Colleges joined forces to address this unprecedented global movement of people. Since then, The New School and the Council for European Studies have joined us.
At a time when institutions of higher learning are increasingly scrutinized for the contributions they make to society, we can highlight how US institutions can be engaged, and why the US liberal arts education persists as a model of excellence in teaching and preparing our students for what will truly be their generation’s existential challenge.
Along with its Consortium partners, Vassar agreed on a sequence of study to develop a course of study in Forced Migration. Aside from developing this cross-campus shared curriculum, Vassar has also developed a signature program (New Americans) and a series of programs and initiatives that make use of digital technology to connect our students with refugee students abroad and at home for shared learning.
New Americans Summer Program
Vassar has developed a signature project that is housed in the Urban Education Initiative that reflects long-standing commitments to make education more accessible. Vassar College’s “New Americans” engages Vassar faculty and students in direct work with forcibly displaced individuals. The program introduces refugee and migrant youth who have been resettled in the U.S. in the past few years to the liberal arts, and aims to prepare them for the college application process. The summer program builds on Vassar’s substantial experience with existing transition programs that make higher education accessible to previously underserved populations: Exploring College, Exploring Transfer, the Vassar Posse programs for US veterans, and the newly launched initiative to establish a “Vassar–Dutchess Community College Scholars Transition” program.
Learning With and From Displaced Populations
We are developing courses that enable forcibly displaced individuals to digitally participate in the class regardless of their geographical location. Professor Höhn taught a first such class in Spring 2018 on “History and Memory in Germany post-1945.” The class was taught via Zoom, and six Vassar students and 6 refugee students (originally from Syria and Afghanistan) who were granted asylum in Berlin, Germany were in the class. Donors made it possible to buy iPads for the refugee students.
Vassar students are working with the director of Vassar's Q-Center to support youth with forced migration backgrounds in their preparations for New York’s Regents exams, as well as for the SAT and ACT exams. For now, we are concentrating on refugee and forced migrant youth in the Mid-Hudson region, connecting with them through Skype.
The Writing Center
Vassar student tutors are also collaborating with Vassar's Writing Center to work in tandems via Skype with forced migrant youth as they develop their English language and writing skills. Currently, we are working with refugee and forced migrant students in the greater Mid-Hudson region, Turkey, and Germany.
Conversations Unbound (CU), previously known as Speak to Me, was founded by Vassar students and is an initiative that grew out of Vassar Refugee Solidarity. CU is now a registered non-profit organization in the United States. Through this project, forcibly displaced individuals act as paid online Arabic or Spanish language tutors for college students enrolled in Arabic or Spanish language classes at Vassar, Michigan State, and the University of Richmond, with the tutor sessions being integrated into the language curriculum. If you are interested in integrating Conversations Unbound into your school’s curriculum, please visit the site.