Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
Where you are born is arguably the most important determinant of your success and happiness in the modern world. As students at the University of Maryland, we are fortunate enough to have been born into lifestyles that granted us the opportunity to pursue higher education. However, despite this, we do still share much of the human experience with people from all over the world.
In a high-profile move, although Goodwin University, the University of Bridgeport and Eastern Michigan University did it first, the university has stepped up in a partnership with the International Rescue Committee and provided temporary housing on-campus for Afghan refugees. And to them, I say welcome.
While I am usually critical of the university’s policies, this is undoubtedly a good idea that could set a new precedent on the level of material activism schools can employ to affect people outside of our local community.
This could be the start of something great. In that vein, I implore the university to take actions that go a step beyond offering temporary housing to just special immigrant visa holders and make this an overall more permanent program. With no signs of conflict stopping across the world, there is absolutely no reason for humanitarianism to cease either.
One reason the university should expand its temporary refugee housing offerings is because of the direct relationship between American intervention and the global refugee crisis. For instance, opening doors to more Afghan people or Yemeni citizens displaced or starved by U.S.-backed Saudi aggression would be a very feasible option for this university to affirm its commitment against dehumanization and genocide.
Despite the positive intentions of the university, some members of the community have not been as welcoming. Some Instagram users have commented overtly xenophobic statements such as: “watch the crime rate go up and assaults on female students will rise.” The particular comment was followed by (unclickable) links to Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate groups and white-nationalist founded think-tanks such as the unreputable Center for Immigration Studies. I was swiftly blocked by the Instagram user when I pointed this fact out.
While these comments don’t provide an actual counterargument to the policy or any substance I could point to evidence against, they do reflect a small, but not insignificant, anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiment that plagues American politics and our campuses.
The onus is on the rest of us students and faculty members to promote a welcoming and inclusive environment for refugees that have been through dangers incomprehensible to some Instagram commenters.
By expanding this temporary initiative even further to include more refugees and more permanent services, this practice will become more normalized, and these sentiments could decrease. While the IRC is finding more permanent housing and employment opportunities for these asylees, the university can do the same and facilitate the process.
This university should offer career counseling, daycare or education opportunities to asylees. The latter is especially important considering a child is a requirement for the families temporarily staying at the university.
We need to grapple with this reality and understand that we have much more in common with Afghan refugee families than we likely do with our politicians or richest businessmen. As humans, however, we are all just struggling to make ends meet while looking to improve the lives of ourselves and our children. Therefore, we have a moral obligation as humans to support the university and its efforts to humanize these refugees.
I hope these refugees find the solace and the community they deserve here at the university, and I hope that they are the first of many to do so with an unprecedented Terrapin-approved permanent program that serves both our global and local communities.
This column has been updated.
Rohin Mishra is a freshman government and economics major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.