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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Group spotlight: SJU refugee and immigrant working group

The group meets a few times a semester, but is always looking for new members. PHOTO COURTESY OF SJU RIWG

A campus working group focused on refugees and immigrants is using the month of March to increase its advocacy for migration justice. 

Beth Ford McNamee, co-chair of the SJU Refugee and Immigrant Working Group (RIWG) and assistant director of Campus Ministry, said the group is making the push through the Ignatian Solidarity Network, an organization that educates and advocates for social justice by organizing Jesuit schools and universities. They offer access to thousands of text-based resources from the perspective of Catholic social tradition. 

Ford said the Ignatian Solidarity Network is asking Jesuit universities to advocate virtually with their congressional representatives or senators in the month of March in order to advocate on issues of migration, climate change and environmental justice.

“As one Ignatian, Jesuit, collective voice, we can express our values around protecting the dignity of immigrants and justice for immigrants,” McNamee said. 

The St. Joe’s group, which is made up of faculty, staff and students who work to educate and advocate for refugee and immigrant rights on campus and in the Philadelphia community, has been collaborating virtually with Pennsylvania representatives and officials.

The group started in 2016 in response to the growing crisis of refugee and global migration patterns. The club specifically supports immigrants and refugees who leave their homes due to violence, economic crises and climate change.  

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that there are over 80 million forcibly displaced persons and 26.3 million refugees across the globe as of midway through 2020. Thirty to thirty-four million of the forcibly displaced persons are children under the age of 18.

McNamee said the group meets, discusses and co-sponsors events on campus about refugees, people who are internally displaced and those who were forced to leave their homes, as well as U.S. immigration policies. 

RIWG students also volunteer locally with immigrant refugee communities. The students, along with faculty and staff, collect items for donations, and prepare furniture and other items to welcome refugee families to Philadelphia. 

Deborah Lenert, co-chair of RIWG and manager of Library Digital Services, said RIWG brings visibility to issues around immigration and serves to address the needs of local immigrant and refugee families by working with regional organizations.

 “For me, RIWG has been a space to learn more about the journey of refugees and immigrants, to find out about ways to volunteer and to become a more effective advocate,” Lenert said.

Members of the group want to learn about walking with others and want to use their privilege, talents and time to support immigrants and refugees, said Aimee LaPointe Terosky, Ed.D., associate professor of educational leadership and a member of RIWG.

“We are always striving to not only do community service, but also to seek to counter power structures that create inequitable situations around the world, the U.S. and right here in Philadelphia,” Terosky said. “Personally, the recent political situation was a challenging time for me as a person who cares deeply about refugees, and it was encouraging to have a group of colleagues and students to work collectively with on this important issue.”

 RIWG posts pictures on its Instagram @sjurefugees and uses the hashtags #SharetheJourney, #ActionItems and #MigrationMonday to gain attention and spread awareness on the stories of refugees.

Veronika Nemeth ’21, RIWG co-coordinator of social media, said “Share the Journey” is the group’s driving motto because their goal is to support refugees and immigrants by volunteering and sharing resources.

“Our purpose is to try to be one of those avenues that we can accompany people in their diverse life journeys and advocate and be an ally for them as they do that,” Nemeth said. 

 Andrea Mueller ’21, the group’s other co-coordinator of social media, said she feels passionately that all people are entitled to human dignity. Mueller helps implement #MigrationMonday on social media.

 “Migration Monday can be anything from an update on policy issues or news in the migration area, or it could be different resources like podcasts or videos, or different reflections that people can take part in,” Mueller said.  

 Vraj Thakar ’22, the University Student Senate representative for RIWG, said he joined RIWG because he comes from a family of immigrants from India and wanted to hear the stories of other refugees and immigrants. 

 “While I am from the U.S., the difficulties refugees and immigrants face are something I can never relate to, so this organization allows me to see through their eyes,” Thakar said. “#ActionItems means we need to do something as a group. Whether it is showing support or providing a service, we need to step out of our comfort zones and take action.”

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