Taking Charge: Jesuit Universities Respond to the Global Refugee Crisis

Graduates from the Jesuit Worldwide Learning Program. Photo JWL https://www.jwl.org/en/home 


Taking Charge: Jesuit Universities Respond to the Global Refugee Crisis

By John Calandra


One of the main principles of the University of San Francisco is that "as Global citizens we have a shared Global responsibility (AGI-Rome Syllabus, 2017)." Over the past four years, AGI-Rome has allowed students the opportunity to study the Global Refugee Crisis in Italy and I was fortunate to participate in 2018.

The first time I read the Jesuit objectives of AGI-Rome I asked myself the question, "how are the other Jesuit universities responding to the refugee crisis." Further research on the subject revealed that a new initiative was created in 2006 called The Jesuit Universities Humanitarian Action Network. The organization is a coalition of three highly regarded Jesuit higher education institutions: Georgetown, Fordham, and Fairfield. You can read more on their website: http://www.juhanonline.org.

On the first day of our immersion we listened to Fr. Thomas Smolich SJ, the International Director of Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS) in Italy. Fr. Thomas spoke about an initiative called the "Jesuit Worldwide Learning (JWL)" program that helps refugees, migrants, and the disadvantaged. It was great hearing about the success of this program and how it is helping refugees resettle into the United States and elsewhere. I found an interesting article online about courses similar to the ones Fr. Tom and JRS have set up for refugees which I have included the link to: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/03/27/jesuit-universities-offer-online-courses-refugee-camps.

On November 4th, 2017 in Vatican City, Pope Francis made remarks that "Catholic Universities needed to study the root causes of forced migration, and ways to counter the discrimination and xenophobic reactions it provokes in so many traditionally Christian nations (Gatz, 2017). Regis, a Jesuit university in Denver, is a member of the Jesuit Commons program and is helping find a solution to the issues Pope Francis discussed. These types of programs certainly embody the Jesuit spirit of Service to others. You can read about Regis' program here: http://www.regis.edu/News-Events-Media/Signature-Story-Directory/Education-at-the-Margins.aspx.

According to a study by UNHCR, only 1 in 100 refugees is able to pursue a college degree in contrast with 34% of youth around the world go to college after high school. As we also learned throughout the immersion even if refugees have college degrees in their home countries these degrees/ knowledge may not be transferrable to the American workforce. UNHCR created a program to combat these issues, which you can read more about here: http://www.unhcr.org/57d9d01d0.pdf.

These data points show the importance of creating a coalition of renowned higher education institutions to help educate refugees and migrants settling in the United States and elsewhere around the globe. Programs like Jesuit commons and JUHAN will help increase refugees access to a quality education, which will in turn allow them to move up the social ladder. Access to education allows refugees to give their children the same opportunities to grow and learn.

One of the most important themes discussed throughout the immersion week was the difficulty refugees have when integrating into a new culture. The Jesuit College education programs for refugees solve this issue. Programs like Jesuit Worldwide learning will help make integration easier for refugees in the future.

While we were in Rome we listened to a lecture at an NGO called Caritas Roma. Alicia, the lecturer spoke about their language education program to help refugees become integrated into Italian culture. Their program consisted of beginning, intermediate, pre-literate and advanced language. These types of programs should be combined with the Jesuit university programs to help refugees around the globe integrate effectively into the society of their host country.

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