University community lobbies to support Afghan evacuees – The Williams Record

Students and faculty are pushing for the College to admit students evacuated from the American University of Afghanistan. (Photo courtesy of Inside higher education.)

After the Western-backed democratic government in Afghanistan fell to the Taliban last August, many Afghan university students face an uncertain and intimidating future. Some have fled their homelands to other countries, and many have yet to find a permanent solution to their plight.

Shortly thereafter, Sarah Dean ’23, – who interviewed Afghan community leaders last summer for a research project on media accounts of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan – heard from one of her people. surveyed that some US colleges and universities were taking action to help.

“I heard from one of the Afghan community leaders I interviewed that Middlebury College was admitting several displaced Afghan students who had fled Afghanistan,” Dean said. “After hearing that, I started to wonder, could Williams do something similar? “

Now Dean and others are pushing the College to dedicate places in their next admitted class to Afghan evacuees. With the support of Katrina Wheelan ’21, Williams Refugee Advancement Coalition co-leaders Jonathan Breibart ’24 and Kazi Raleh ’24, and several professors, Dean wrote to College President Maud S. Mandel, Provost Dukes Love , Dean of Admission and Student Financial Services Liz Creighton ’01, and Director of Admissions Sulgi Lim arguing that the College has the resources to admit a cohort of at least 10 Afghan students.

“Williams is uniquely positioned to undertake this endeavor as we have immense resources to support a cohort of students,” Dean said in an interview with the Save.

Dean argued that academic institutions can help speed up the visa process for admitted students, as student visas are often processed faster than refugee visas. “This is a phenomenal opportunity for the College to change the lives of these students while changing our Williams community for the better. “

After Mandel recommended that Dean meet with Creighton, Dean put Creighton in touch with representatives from the philanthropic arm of Goldman Sachs for preliminary discussions about the partnership, although the College has yet to commit to admitting the Afghan evacuees. Goldman Sachs is partnering with the Afghan Future Fund, a coalition of organizations and donors seeking to place Afghan university students in US and Canadian higher education institutions.

The Afghan Future Fund works with several students from the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF). College Anthropology Professor David Edwards sits on the AUAF Board of Directors and chairs the AUAF Academic Affairs Committee and the Task Force on the Institution’s Future after the Taliban Takeover in August.

Edwards said AUAF currently offers its courses online, but many students are still located in Afghanistan.

“We currently have 750 students enrolled,” he said. “And of that number, 370 are taking courses from inside Afghanistan. Some of these students are forced to change places regularly … We have become a target of Taliban propaganda because of our association with the United States because of our name, and also because of the type of education – liberal arts education – that we provide. “

While AUAF students took online classes due to the pandemic before the democratic government fell to the Taliban, many students no longer have constant internet access due to power outages and fear that the Taliban do not reunite with their families, Edwards said.

During the August military evacuations, the United States evacuated 150 AUAF students, according to CNN. Although many students attempted to leave during the evacuations, many were unable to due to security concerns and logistical chaos at the airport.

In addition to the 370 students in Afghanistan, the current crisis has dispersed AUAF students to 30 countries on six continents. “Some exited through the airport in August while evacuations were still underway… Others managed to cross the border into Pakistan or Central Asia,” Edwards said.

In particular, the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan; the American University of Kurdistan at Duhok in the Iraqi Kurdistan region; and the American University of Iraq Sulaimani in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq, received many evacuated students. However, Edwards said keeping Afghan students at these universities was not a permanent solution.

“As Afghans, they don’t speak the local languages [of those countries], “he said.” And while it is wonderful that they have a refuge at the moment, the timestamp on that refuge is going to expire, and they are eventually going to have to find a more permanent refuge elsewhere. “

“While most students want to return to Afghanistan, they also want to continue their education,” Edwards said. “I think it’s fair to say that the vast majority want to go back to Afghanistan. For many of them, their family is in Afghanistan, they cannot have contact with them, and they also want to continue the project of rebuilding their country, which led them to attend AUAF in the first place. But in the meantime, they also want to continue their education, which is where Williams and other schools can play a crucial role. “

Dean said other institutions like Bard College have already set an example of what this kind of help might look like. “Bard College is committed to welcoming up to 100 Afghan students,” Dean said. “Even though Bard achieves its five-year goal of increasing its endowment to $ 1 billion, Williams still has more than four times the endowment resources. Therefore, I am particularly impressed with Bard’s leadership on this issue.

Edwards, who helped organize AUAF’s partnership with Bard College, echoed Dean’s sentiment. “Nobody expects Williams to offer 100 slots,” said Edwards. “I think it’s unrealistic for other schools to do this. But I don’t see a good reason not to have a dozen students. If we were worried about how they would adjust to Williams, it would be better to take a larger cohort of Afghan students who have been through what they have been through.

Edwards said AUAF students in particular are well prepared for an American college environment. “These are students who have already been in liberal arts classes; they are the crème de la crème of Afghan students, ”he said. “They couldn’t get into AUAF unless they passed many English proficiency exams and were the top students in their high schools.”

Beyond advocating to enroll Afghan evacuees in the college, many campus stakeholders are also working to support resettlement efforts.

According to Breibart, who co-signed Dean’s letter to the college administration, the Williams Refugee Advancement Coalition has moved from advocacy related to the global refugee crisis in general to new Afghan evacuees in the region this year. “Last year, [the coalition] was known as No Lost Generation, and in the past before that too, ”he said. “And now we’re trying to make this a needs-based group that’s going to focus on the ongoing Afghan resettlement. “

Western Massachusetts Jewish Family Services (JFS) is working to resettle 60 Afghan families and individuals in Berkshire County, according to Breibart. Other campus organizations, such as the Center for Learning in Action (CLiA), also support the work of JFS.

Notably, the Williams College Jewish Association (WCJA) and Lehman Community Engagement recently raised a total of $ 9,110 to support JFS resettlement efforts. According to WCJA Co-Chair Melvin Lewis ’22, more than 900 students have donated their meal funds.

At the College, various academic offerings allow students to learn more about Afghanistan beyond the ongoing crisis and support resettlement efforts.

Enrollment in history professor Chris Waters’ course on the Anglo-Afghan wars of the 19th and early 20th centuries has increased this year, Waters said, possibly due to increased student interest in Afghanistan in the light of current events.

Next semester, Edwards plans to teach a class at Williams whose centerpiece will be the development of a high school curriculum on Afghan history and culture that can be used in both Afghan and non-Afghan contexts. “The Afghans living under the Taliban are going to be cut off from a lot of [their] traditions, and have been, and I think it’s important to find places that use the resources at our disposal, including the Internet, to keep those traditions alive, ”he said. “I want to find ways to help Afghans preserve these traditions and keep them alive, as well as teach young people in other countries about the rich heritage and history of this country, which is so often portrayed only as a place of violence and religious extremism.

As campus stakeholders prepare for the work ahead, Breibart said much is uncertain. “We don’t know how many, and we don’t know the details of who comes out of the 60 families because it’s the very last minute,” he said. “Jewish family services are only notified a week in advance. [of their arrival]. “

Nonetheless, Breibart said he and the Williams Refugee Advancement Coalition hope to bring together different community members on campus for upcoming projects, such as community presentations, mentorship programs and transportation support for resettled families.

Dean said she encourages other students to get involved. “There is a lot of broader work that needs to be done to support the Afghan community in Pittsfield and in the county of Berkshire,” she said.

About Bradley J. Bridges

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