Manhattan College Advocates for Refugees

By Mack Olmsted and Brianna Coppola, Asst. Production Editor & Contributer

Manhattan College kicked off refugee advocacy week with a discussion event on war and displacement. The discussion was organized by junior Christopher Belden and campus minister Conor Reidy, with the intention to encourage faculty to raise awareness about the Ukrainian refugee crisis.

The idea came after Belden spent his summer internship at The Holocaust, Genocide and Interfaith (HGI) Education Center on campus. Belden also attended a video conference with Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS) about refugee issues, which gave him the idea to create this opportunity for students to learn more about the worldwide situation.

The speakers at this event were Jeff Horn Ph.D., Margaret Groarke, Ph.D., Eoin O’Connell, Ph.D., Kevin Ahern, Ph.D. and Irina Kimelfeld, who were chosen by Belden because of their unique backgrounds and areas of expertise.

“We have so many speakers on campus who have the ability to speak professionally with expert knowledge on a range of geopolitical topics,” Reidy said. “So speaking to the geopolitics of specific situations, speaking to the history of certain situations, speaking to the current political climate in those places and speaking psychologically about the psychology of refugees.”

The discussion started off with Horn, a professor of history at Manhattan College, teaching the struggles of Ukraine and connecting the past with the world events going on today. During his discussion, Horn emphasized the impact over Ukraine’s history, describing to the audience the fight Ukraine went through to become the nation that they are now. 

He showed a passion for spreading awareness on the state of refugees around the world. Horn felt grateful to be a part of a meaningful and empowering event. 

“You always want to support students who have a desire to help, but I’m also the closest we have to somebody who knows the story and our modern European history, so it makes sense for me to be a part of that. We want to raise people’s attention; to not be part of this would be unthinkable,” Horn told the Quadrangle.

Groarke, a professor of political science at MC, has been doing advocacy work for 25 years. Groarke discussed the relationship between Ukraine and Russia, and the aftermath of the Ukraine declaring independence in 1991. Groarke also wanted to bring attention to the well-being of  refugees. 

Groarke mentioned the displacement of 8 million people and noted that some countries have been welcoming and some have been stubborn but eventually opened their arms and provided resources. She emphasized the important role that the United States plays in helping refugees, as it’s easier for us to provide more resources. Groarke expressed that she believes Americans can do more than what has already been done. She wants people to be more aware of their privilege and she encourages more communities to get involved and help in any way possible.

“I think we need to be aware of our responsibility to help people who are escaping war. We’re lucky in our country that the bombs and the shootings are almost never in our cities, but these people are facing a war, you know, the bombs are landing on their houses and so we need to help people deal with the awful situation,” Groarke said. 

O’Connell, associate professor of philosophy, spoke about how philosophy ties into this crisis. O’Connell has expressed that the government needs to step up and help more. He discussed it’s also a community responsibility to provide aid to refugees.

“In most cases, it’s pretty natural for people to begin to form bonds with their society, and be part of the community,” O’Connell said. “As much as individuals have rights, communities have rights. One thing a community has a right to do, is not to be unfairly interfered with by a government. If a person lives in a community long enough, then they’re part of that community and they should be allowed to remain in our community and become citizens, as opposed to being dragged out, as some countries like to do.” 

The last speaker of the event was Kimelfeld, chairwoman of the Ukrainian Welcome Circle, which is a part of NorthWest Bronx Coalition for Refugees. Kimelfeld discussed the ins and outs of her work at the coalition, where she helps refugees get back on their feet and teaches them everything they need to know. She greatly encourages students to get involved and help in any way that they can.

“Sometimes it’s just a matter of helping kids get familiar with school, maybe a little tutoring, sometimes it’s just language assistance, and maybe if you don’t speak their language, it’s just helping them sort of acclimate to the English language,” Kimelfeld said. “So there’s lots of smaller and bigger ways to get involved, if you so wish.”

Reidy was proud of all the work that was put into the discussion event. He explained his hopes for the future, and how people can help the refugee crisis.

“I hope that it becomes something we do more frequently,” Reidy said. “This is our first time ever doing something like this, but I would love to see students get involved, to make this happen every year. The refugee crisis, sadly, is not going to end thanks to one week of advocacy.”