Without regard for the already-existing federal laws, states across the country have been illegally exiling refugees. In response, students at the University wrote letters on Friday, Dec. 4 to protest the treatment of these individuals.
Three politicians were targeted during the letter writing campaign: Greg Abbott, Governor of Texas; Rick Snyder, Governor of Michigan; and Doug Ducey, Governor of Arizona.
The campaign was organized by the Wesleyan Refugee Project, a recently-formed student group which facilitates discussion and takes action in support of refugees from the Syrian civil war, some of whom have applied for resettlement in the United States.
“These were our three targets that we wanted to look at because they are three of the states who have allowed the most amount of refugees in, particularly Syrian refugees, since Obama’s call to have 10,000 refugees be admitted to the united states,” said Wesleyan Refugee Project co-Founder Sophie Zinser ’16. “These three states really responded to the call, as a lot of people did, and then as of last week shut down their borders.”
The letter writing campaign was intended to try and sway the governors to let the refugees stay in their states.
“They did the worst possible thing,” Zinser said. “It’s way worse than just saying no—they let people in and then decided to not let them in anymore. So we are doing this letter writing campaign to try and convince them to let people in again.”
By the time the letter writing campaign was over, there were over 400 letters written, which was much more than the volunteers for the campaign had expected.
“I thought we would only try to beat 113, which was what University of Michigan’s law school raised,” said Thafir Elzofri ’19. “It was awesome to see it was well over 300. I think a little over 400 now.”
Zinser is currently trying to establish a partnership with Vassar, Connecticut College, and Yale, hoping to start more letter writing campaigns across the United States. Out of the schools that have already done a similar campaign, Zinser believes that the University has been able to produce the most letters—even though it is significantly smaller than some of the other comparable schools.
“It is insane,” Zinser said. “This is the most of any school that I have ever heard of doing this. It is just absurd. We hope to send our model along to any schools that are interested and willing to do this kind of drive, because it took only less than two days of effort and it’s very successful if you have incredible volunteers like we have.”
One volunteer, who has family in Egypt, expressed her personal connection to the campaign in an email to The Argus. Sabrina Khattab ’19 first grew passionate about the subject when her family in Egypt expressed discontent with Syrian refugees.
“They complain that the Syrian refugees are taking the already limited job opportunities for [lower] salaries than most Egyptians would ever settle for and for that reason they want them out of our country,” wrote Khattab. “I couldn’t believe my ears, I couldn’t understand how my family, neighbors, etc. could be so selfish and not realize the reason behind the Syrian’s refuge in Egypt. When I heard about the governors who have refused to accept Syrian refugees after the recent attacks I was even more upset, they weren’t using the same excuse as in Egypt, instead they refused because they fear the refugees being potential terrorists, which is much more hurtful.”
University President Michael Roth reaffirmed the University’s commitment to assisting refugees in any ways that it can.
“We anticipate having a refugee as a scholar in residence next year,” Roth said.“We are working with Middletown [to see] what are the things we can do with the city to be more welcoming to refugees. We’re hosting a series of educational discussions on campus about this issue and are putting some money aside for students who want to go to refugee centers, so think that those things are still in play.”
He continued by stating that he hopes that the University can serve as an example to other institutions of higher education despite growing fears.
“I think that the irrational turn against refugees is a symptom of fear about terrorism [and] is deeply unfortunate, and I think that having a commitment to help displaced people the best we can—because we’re just a small place—to make that commitment visible in the hopes of making other schools and other universities do something similar, is still important to us,” Roth said.
One primary goal of the letter writing campaign was to show students how much of a change they are able to make. The hope is that individuals will start to feel more empowered and take action. Those who are frustrated with current situations should know how to change them.
“I mean some people think, ‘Oh we can’t change this, what are we going to do?’” Elzofri said. “But look at what we did. This is awesome. One person actually can do a lot, and if they actually try to call in or do something then one phone call can actually help. One letter will make a difference.”
More than just asking people to write, the volunteers for this campaign hope that students will start conversations to spread awareness about these issues.
“It is important in any context to spark conversation about this topic at Wesleyan,” Zinser said. “We had a lot of people who were really questioning what we were doing and asking a lot of questions, and I think encouraging people to stay informed about what is going on in their world is important. It does affect not only them but the people that share their country, and if we are going to be as great as we hope to be then it is important to stay informed about what is going on in the world.”