We have watched news of the Syrian refugee crisis with overwhelming distress, sorrow, and frustration. Our reaction has been all the more visceral, particularly here at the University of Toronto, as we witness the disproportionate impact on young people and children.
As in other parts of the world, local communities and neighbourhoods across our country, our province, and our city are joining an urgent, global response to the tragedy, profoundly demonstrating that empathy and kinship know no political or geographic bounds.
I am proud to be part of one such community. The University of Toronto is a collection of many diverse people, with different aims and purposes, but with a common goal of somehow making the world a better place. There are many examples of research, scholarship, and teaching from across our academic community that directly touch on issues raised by the crisis. To highlight just a few among a huge and diverse range:
- The Program in Ethnic, Immigration, and Pluralism Studies and the Global Migration Research Institute at the Munk School of Global Affairs
- UTSC’s upcoming series of public talks and lectures about refugee and migration issues
- The Asper Centre Refugee Law Working Group and Refugee Law classes in our Faculty of Law.
- North American Refugee Health Conference, one of the largest clinical conferences on refugee health in the world led and hosted by the University of Toronto’s health sciences community.
- Student refugee committees are active at Innis College, Victoria College, New College, Trinity College, University College, UTM, and UTSC, all working closely with the World University Services of Canada (WUSC) Student Refugee Program. U of T hosts more WUSC student refugees than any other university in Canada.
Of particular note, U of T’s Scholars at Risk program – which celebrated its 15th anniversary last year – is housed at Massey College and offers support to academics and graduate students who have fled conditions of political oppression in their homeland.
The moral urgency of the present crisis – as in the past with the Typhoon in the Philippines or the earthquake in Haiti– has led student groups, departments, Colleges, faculties, and divisions to push for more engagement and coordination.
To this end, the University of Toronto is expanding our Scholars-at-Risk program with a new bursary for students at risk. Our goal is to create a $1 million fund supporting 100 bursaries of $10,000 each, which we would award over the next 10 years. To support this initiative, U of T is committing up to $500,000 to match (1:1) donations of any size from students, faculty, staff, alumni, and supporters. The bursaries will go to undergraduate and graduate students with refugee status in Canada. To begin, the bursaries will be focused on Syrian students at risk, and will be broadened to include other refugees who have had their educations disrupted by conflict or war. We believe these bursaries will play a powerful role in helping these students and their families rebuild their lives.
To make a donation, please visit: http://uoft.me/scholars-at-risk
For those individuals who are interested in sponsoring refugee families in Canada, we would encourage you to support Ryerson University’s Lifeline Syria initiative. Ryerson is spearheading a drive to sponsor 25 Syrian refugee families through this initiative and the University of Toronto, York University, and OCAD University have all agreed to partner with Ryerson in this effort. For more information, please visit: http://www.ryerson.ca/lifelinesyria/
Meric S. Gertler