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IPFW Supports Syrian Refugees with Two Events in One Day

The Rally attracted many people despite the poor weather conditions

Photo credit: Bernadette Becker

The Rally attracted many people despite the poor weather conditions
Written by: Communicator StaffDecember 07, 2015

Written by Bernadette Becker

IPFW held two events Dec. 2 in support of Syrian Refugees. IPFW Students and Faculty In Solidarity with Syrian Refugees was a student­led rally in the afternoon and that evening there was a panel discussion, “Global Crisis, Local Action: Syrian Refugees and the Fort Wayne Community.”

The rally was born out of an Arabic­French book club and students’ outrage over the Dec 13 Paris attacks and the subsequent anti­Syrian refugee sentiments, according to Nancy Virtue, a French professor who leads the book club with Farah Combs, an Arabic professor. The group was also upset because of Gov. Mike Pence’s decision to reject the settlement of Syrian refugees.

Elana Merritt, a student and president of the Arabic Language and Culture Club, was key in the creation of the event according to both Combs and Virtue. The event used social media and traditional fliers around campus to spread awareness. The Facebook page saw heated comments and anti­Syrian thoughts, which were contested by other people on the page.

The Facebook site also saw positive comments by IPFW Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, George McClellan, and a few professors, who praised student activism and the cause itself.

During the event, all attendees were encouraged to sign a petition to Pence to reconsider his decision to bar Syrian refugees from resettling in the the state. Additionally, the organizers for the event, brought preaddressed postcards for people to express their feelings about the matter to Pence.

Ashanti Ditaway, pictured in red, invited students to write postcards to Gov. Mike Pence.

Ashanti Ditaway, pictured in red, invited students to write postcards to Gov. Mike Pence.

The event was well attended, with a steady stream of people into the Engineering building for free cookies and Bon Bon’s coffee and hot chocolate, and a constant stalwart group braving the poor weather outside with an open mic for people to come up and express their support for Syrian refugees. Jamie Drake, a Spanish professor, began the rally by a rendition of the song “Blowing in the Wind,” (originally by Bob Dylan).

Students expressed how they felt about the issue.

“People are people,” said John Price, a freshman communications student and a veteran who completed two deployments in Afghanistan. He explained that he finds it disheartening that the core American values he fought to protect seem to be violated by turning away Syrian refugees in search of a better life.

“I strongly believe in the golden rule,” said Virtue, who said that by learning about another culture and language it helps people to put themselves in other people’s shoes. She added that “we don’t make our best decisions when we make them out of fear.” Virtue read a poem by Warsan Shire, a Kenyan­born Somali poet, which begins:

“no one leaves home unless

home is the mouth of a shark

you only run for the border

when you see the whole city running as well”

The poem continues with “no one puts their children in a boat

unless the water is safer than the land.”

Tony Tran, a son of two Vietnamese refugees, said “we need to help other people … it can work for these refugees.” Tran mentioned the gratitude his family feels toward the U.S. helping them escape communism and live a life of freedom.

Tony Tran, an IPFW Senior in Animation, and son of Vietnamese refugees shows support with his shirt and sign.

Tony Tran, an IPFW Senior in Animation, and son of Vietnamese refugees shows support with his shirt and sign.

Those on the panel included: Sam Jarjour, an attorney and board chair of The Indiana Center for Middle East Peace; Caleb Jehl, activist; Dr.Ann Livschiz, IPFW history professor; Amar Masri, activist; Jamie Toole, IPFW political science professor. The panel moderator was Dr. Assem Nasr, IPFW communication professor.

Dr. Assem Nasr spoke at the Rally in support of Refugees.

Dr. Assem Nasr spoke at the Rally in support of Refugees.

The panel began with video clips of Jehl and others who actually walked the route the Syrian refugees use to escape. The videos showed the arduous journey the refugees had undertaken with few possessions and minimal supplies. There was footage of volunteers handing out water bottles and officials pointing the refugees to coats and clothing since many come without suitable garb for the European climate. Nasr commented that people would not take such a risk unless it was absolutely necessary.

Toole outlined his harrowing experiences visiting refugee camps in the Middle East last year, and explained the distinctions between the refugee situation for Europe and for the U.S.

Toole elaborated that because of the physical separation of the U.S. from Syria and because of the refugee selection process there is a very low security threat.

“Politics of fear [are] not leading to a moral outcome” Toole said.

Livschiz encouraged people to organize. She also encouraged people to write and call their representatives in the government to use the political system to create change. Livschiz and the other panel members spoke deliberately but did use the term “racist” at points in the discussion. Jarjour said that it is hard to classify rhetoric of “no Syrians” as something other than racist. Additionally, Nasr highlighted that diversity is an investment for the U.S. and that it is important people “keep the conversation going.”

Jehl said that in his exposure to the Syrian refugees he repeatedly heard how people were “tired of religion in politics” and that they were searching for a secular government. Jarjour cited that former Gov. Mitch Daniels is a third­generation Syrian immigrant (his paternal grandfather immigrated from Syria, IndyStar reported).

Another point the panel touched on was that Syria is one of the most educated countries in the Middle East giving, which makes these refugees even more of an asset to the U.S. It was highlighted, too, by Jarjour that Fort Wayne has had 100 years of Syrian immigration already, and the values of America include welcoming people in times of persecution.