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College’s Syrian refugee program defies politicians

Guilford College has launched the Every Campus a Refuge initiative
University Business, January 2016
Faculty, students and staff gather on Guilford College’s quad to express their support for refugees who have been invited to live on the North Carolina campus. (Photo: Kat Miller)
Faculty, students and staff gather on Guilford College’s quad to express their support for refugees who have been invited to live on the North Carolina campus. (Photo: Kat Miller)

As the national debate over sheltering Syrian refugees on American soil heats up, a North Carolina college with a Quaker heritage is providing sanctuary to one family and encouraging others to do the same.

Guilford College in Greensboro has launched the Every Campus a Refuge initiative, designed to ease the transition of Syrian families into the United States by housing them for 90 days after arrival.

Diya Abdo, chair of Guilford’s Department of English and Creative Writing, created the program in response to Pope Francis’ call for every European parish to take in one refugee family.

These families gain some time to seek housing and employment, open bank accounts and get social security numbers without spending the one-time stipend of $1,125 the U.S. government gives each refugee entering the country. Guilford will forgo its usual housing fee, and officials plan to place incoming refugees in a private suite. The campus has two apartment-style housing facilities.

Despite a general outcry against incoming refugees from state Gov. Pat McCrory and direct protest from state Rep. John Blust, Guilford continues to work with the North Carolina African Services Coalition in anticipation of receiving a Syrian family in early 2016.

And thanks to recent press, Abdo says, over 30 colleges and universities (including one in Canada) have reached out to discuss how to adopt the refuge campaign on their own campuses.

State government cannot block this type of campaign, but it can penalize participating public institutions by defunding state-based initiatives, Abdo says. To avoid this, she suggests, schools could set up programs through student clubs or organizations, rather than through the institution.

Guilford students are eligible for a state need-based scholarship, and this looks to remain status quo. “Despite objections by some to programs such as ours here at Guilford, I have not heard anything coming from Raleigh threatening our participation in the program as a result,” says Director of Financial Aid Brian De Young.

Greensboro community support has included Quaker Meeting House members attending campus meetings and one member donating a used car to the cause. An ethnic food market has offered toiletries and a credit line to refugees.

“When campuses take this responsibility on, they are making a public statement,” says Abdo. “If a campus offers what a city won’t, it counters fear with compassion and hospitality.”

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