A University of Maryland student is looking to combine university resources with the needs of recently resettled refugees.
Katie Miller, a freshman psychology major, is advocating for this university to join Every Campus A Refuge, a college-based organization that asks institutions to host refugees and assist them in resettlement by letting them live on campuses.
“I was looking for ways to help online,” she said, “and found this nationwide initiative that a bunch of other colleges are already doing.”
Diya Abdo, an English professor at Guilford College in North Carolina, created ECAR in 2015. In the beginning of 2016, the program hosted its first refugees. The college currently hosts 16 refugees — 11 of whom are children — in vacant student housing, Abdo said.
Miller has reached out to the Student Government Association and the Residence Hall Association in hopes of starting a dialogue with campus leaders, and she is “looking to get their support,” she said. Miller said she has also bounced ideas off of freshman engineering major Anders Alilio, who attended the RHA meeting with her on behalf of ECAR.
She has permission to rent a table outside Stamp Student Union and will start canvassing next week.
SGA President Katherine Swanson said she likes the idea behind the organization and believes its intentions are good.
“I don’t know enough about it to make a definitive decision about whether our campus should do that,” she said. “I have an email about [ECAR] in my inbox, so I’ll definitely be looking into it.”
Miller also drafted a letter to university President Wallace Loh about making the campus a refuge but is waiting to send the letter until she has garnered greater student support.
“At this turbulent and divisive moment in American politics, it is important to provide moral support to immigrants and refugees,” the letter read. “We can’t let this opportunity pass us by in the moment of need.”
Almost 50 other universities have expressed interest in joining the organization, according to ECAR’s website, and Georgetown and Princeton students are petitioning their respective schools to become members, Abdo said. These university students’ requests suggest that refugees be offered available student housing, especially over summer break.
Tracy Kiras, the Department of Resident Life’s assistant director for communication and marketing, said not enough is known about the proposed program to predict success on the campus, adding the staff hasn’t “even indulged in the hypothetical yet.”
“We’re always certainly open to hearing these kinds of proposals, but I don’t know that we would have the capacity,” she said. “We have a pretty robust summer conference program here … and our halls are typically rented by summer conferences.”
This university guarantees freshmen on-campus housing but struggled to meet that promise when a larger number of admitted students accepted. In fall 2015, the first-year student population was 3,939 students. But in fall 2016, this number reached 4,553 students — 10 percent more than the goal for the freshman class, according to enrollment data.
Resident Life made changes such as adding six additional flex-triples and turning five floor lounges — two in La Plata Hall, two in Elkton Hall and one in Dorchester Hall — into quads to accommodate for this increase in students.
Campus groups such as Maryland Hillel have extended their support to refugees, largely in the wake of President Trump’s travel ban, which originally barred citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from traveling to the U.S. for 90 days and indefinitely banned Syrian refugees. The order has been struck down in court.
College Park is also currently home to a Syrian refugee family, and the City Council passed a resolution in March 2016 welcoming all refugees. The Maryland Office for Refugees and Asylees has helped more than 40,000 refugees settle in the state of Maryland, according to the Department of Human Resources.