Sunday, January 29, 2017

Inclusive Excellence at USF and Abroad

Pope Francis performs the foot-washing ritual at the Castelnuovo di Porto refugee center near Rome on Holy Thursday. (Osservatore Romano/AFP via Getty)

Inclusive Excellence at USF and Abroad

By Samantha Wilkinson

At The University of San Francisco, where diversity and human rights are among the most important values, the term “inclusive excellence” is used often to refer to the acceptance of all types of people into the university community. I found myself focused on this familiar phrase often throughout the duration of the 2017 Academic Global Immersion program in Rome. Unfortunately, the week-long course on Humanitarian Emergency Management highlighted how far the world is from reaching inclusive excellence, especially when it comes to our forcibly displaced peoples. Fortunately, the representatives from Jesuit Refugee Services, Programa Integra, Caritas, and UNHCR not only helped us to understand the severity of the current refugee crisis, but they also provided us with solutions that we can use to assist in alleviating the crisis.

On an individual level, informing ourselves and working towards eliminating our personal biases (both conscious and unconscious) are the first and most important actions that must be taken to increase inclusion of refugees in any given host country. Specifically, we must inform ourselves of the policies in host countries, as they have the potential to drive many of the actions and behaviors of refugees. Failing to understand that these actions and behaviors are largely driven by policy can then lead to host country residents forming inaccurate and/or negative perceptions.

Anthony’s testimonial of how he came from Kenya to Italy as a refugee served as a prime example of how increasing awareness can lead to the more accurate formation of perceptions. I found multiple similarities between his life in Kenya and my life in the U.S., further reducing my perception of refugees as different than myself. It was also interesting to hear that Anthony could not legally work when he first arrived in Italy, yet popular perception is that refugees are taking away jobs from locals. It is likely that making this information available to more people would not only reduce discrimination and hostility towards refugees in their host countries, but it could influence collective change as well.

According to Stefan of UNHCR, far right political discourse is largely to blame for the exacerbation of the refugee crisis, proving how important large-scale change is to increasing inclusion of refugees. Those with far-reaching public influence should not only be informing themselves and eliminating their personal biases, but also using their platforms to increase awareness among the public and advocate for policies that encourage the inclusion of refugees. Sending these types of public messages could also lead to a shift in the individual behaviors of host country residents towards refugees. Pope Francis, for example, has been particularly influential in regards to using positive rhetoric surrounding refugees. His compassion and ability to shift political discourse related to refugees is so impressive that it made attending his mass at the Vatican a highlight of the AGI trip.

The AGI program confirmed the idea that solving the refugee crisis begins by understanding that it is a shared responsibility. Effectively and efficiently creating an inclusive environment for refugees in their host countries requires both small and large-scale efforts. While the degree to which small or large-scale efforts are more impactful is debatable, it is clear that one without the other will not yield significant and sustainable enough results.