Rice University’s Student Newspaper — Since 1916

Friday, July 01, 2022 — Houston, TX

A Vision for Tomorrow: Refugee Support at Rice

Photo illustration by Charlene Pan

By Danna Ghafir , Ariana Engles , Jefferson Ren , Anumita Jain , Salonee Shah , Annum Sadana and Alexandra Boufarah     1/22/19 9:49pm

Jan. 3, 2019 was a historic moment for the United States.  The tired eyes of a frantic but hopeful nation were on the newly elected congressional representatives, one of whom was the first Muslim refugee ever elected to Congress: Ilhan Omar. The night before, Omar tweeted, “23 years ago, from a refugee camp in Kenya, my father and I arrived at an airport in Washington, D.C. Today, we return to that same airport on the eve of my swearing in as the first Somali-American in Congress.” 

Omar’s story underscores the myriad of ways refugees contribute to and uplift the core values of the United States: diversity, democracy and equality. The inherent power of representatives like Omar lies in their understanding of uniquely American experiences and the value of the freedoms that the U.S. provides for displaced populations. At Rice, our roles as students, administrators and leaders at all levels empower us to support refugees and asylum-seekers on an individual and structural level in our community, our host city of Houston (the number one city for refugee resettlement in the nation) and in our country.

Supporting refugee students is concurrent with the values and priorities of Rice University and its students.Rice’s peer institutions have demonstrated their support for refugee students in ways that can be used as a model for our university. For example, Columbia University has created a scholarship specifically for students who have been displaced by the conflict in Syria. Started in the fall of 2018, the Columbia Scholarship for Displaced Persons provides six students with full tuition, housing, travel costs and living assistance throughout their time at the university. Other peer institutions such as the University of Southern California have followed suit, providing scholarships specifically for Syrian refugee students. Both of these institutions are part of the Syria Consortium, a group of universities which provide scholarships in order for Syrian refugees to be able to pursue higher education. In line with its mission to expand access to education, Rice should also consider creating scholarship programs for refugee students and joining organizations dedicated to supporting students displaced by crises, like the Syria Consortium. 

However, administrative action must go hand in hand with student support. One of the defining qualities of students at Rice is their willingness to not only learn about social issues, but also take action. Given that there are 68.5 million people forcibly displaced worldwide — the highest levels of displacement ever on record — we simply cannot afford to give in to complacency. In a time when refugee support is crucial in higher education and in the U.S. at large, we challenge you to think beyond the comfortable “Rice bubble” that often shelters us all, and look towards how you can play a part — however small or large it may be — in tackling the consequences of the global refugee crisis. Volunteer with Partnership for the Advancement and Immersion of Refugees (PAIR) or refugee resettlement agencies in Houston, like Amaanah, Alliance, and Interfaith Ministries. Attend city and county government meetings to advocate for increasing funding for local community organizations  or write a letter to your representative in Congress to make sure that the U.S. meets its refugee resettlement goal in 2019. Listen carefully when people who have been displaced, share their stories and help keep our community informed and inspired to take action. Let us expand upon the principles Rice University was founded on and use them to respond to the global refugee crisis.

More from The Rice Thresher

OPINION 5/12/22 4:05pm
The Wellbeing Center should be transparent about its true confidentiality policies

Before you attend a counseling session at the Rice counseling center, you will be told that “the RCC maintains strict standards regarding privacy.” You will find statements from the university that your mental health record will not be shared with anyone outside of extreme situations of imminent harm, and only then that your information will be shared with only the necessary officials. This sounds great, except that these assurances bear no teeth whatsoever — no enforcement agency ensures that Rice follows its public confidentiality promises, and there are no penalties for Rice if they break them. The Wellbeing and Counseling Centers should more directly communicate the limits of their confidentiality policies when compared to unaffiliated counseling centers, and students in sensitive situations should take the necessary precautions to protect their information.

OPINION 4/19/22 11:11pm
We’re in student media to learn

This week marks the last issue of the Thresher for the year, and for the seniors like myself, our last issue ever. I have been a part of the Thresher since freshman year. And it would not be an exaggeration to say it has defined my Rice experience. As someone pursuing a career in journalism after graduation, there has been no better place to learn than at this paper.

OPINION 4/19/22 11:02pm
Philanthropy doesn’t excuse slavery

In January, the Rice Board of Trustees announced plans to move the Founder’s memorial to another area of the academic quad as part of a whole redesign, adding additional context of his “entanglement” with slavery. This comes despite continual calls from the student body to not have the enslaver displayed in the quad regardless of the context provided. It would be just for these calls to action and the majority of the Task Force Committee who voted to not keep it there that the Board of Trustees decide to not keep the memorial prominently displayed in the quad at all.


Please note All comments are eligible for publication by The Rice Thresher.