More Universities, Higher Ed Groups Step Up To Help Afghan Refugees

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A U.S. Marine lifts an infant over a barbed wire fence during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai ... [+] International Airport in Kabul.(Photo by - / Courtesy of Omar Haidiri / AFP) (Photo by -/Courtesy of Omar Haidiri/AFP via Getty Images)

Courtesy of Omar Haidiri/AFP via Getty Images

As the desperate attempt to evacuate thousands of people from Afghanistan continues following the stunning takeover of the country by the Taliban, more American colleges and higher education organizations are offering several forms of assistance to Afghan emigres.

The University of Tulsa (TU) was among the first, when, earlier this month, it announced it would provide two scholarships to Afghan refugees who enroll as undergraduates. Available immediately, TU’s scholarships will cover the total cost of attendance at the university for up to four years.

Other institutions are joining the cause with an outpouring of support.

The University of California, Berkeley’s Human Rights Center has partnered with San Jose State University’s Human Rights Institute and the UC Berkeley Afghan Student Association to launch a crowdfunded Afghanistan Emergency Fund with the goal of providing immediate support for at-risk Afghans. It set and met an initial goal of raising $100,000 by August 27 (with a promised dollar-for dollar match from the UC Berkeley Vice Chancellor for Research Opportunity Fund), but that goal has since been increased to $250,000 by September 15.

Goddard College announced last Friday that it would be willing to house Afghan refugees at dormitories on its Plainfield, Vermont campus for at least two months this fall. While the plans for doing so have yet to be finalized, Goddard President Dan Hocoy said the decision was a “no-brainer.” Hocoy added, “I was so pleased because I really believe that it’s part of our mission to address the current needs of our global community.” Goddard operates on a low 0ccupancy model that requires its students to be on campus for only short periods of time so it should have the capacity to provide temporary housing if need be.

At Northern Virginia Community College, the gymnasium and other facilities are being used to temporarily house Afghan refugees before they are transferred to more permanent locations. Accommodations for up to 500 people are being readied.

University of the People, a tuition-free, American-accredited online university, announced it’s offering 1,000 scholarships for Afghan women to pursue a bachelor’s degree on their platform. The aid will presumably cover the assessment fees charged per course.

New York’s Bard College, working with several partners - the American University of Central Asia (AUCA), Open Society University Network (OSUN) and the American University of Afghanistan (AUAf) - has offered to take in as many as 100 students as well as threatened scholars on its Annandale campus.

Goodwin University and the University of Bridgeport, two private universities in Connecticut, wrote a letter to President Biden pledging their support in the form of housing, assistance with language skills, and work and career programs for Afghan refugees. The University of Bridgeport also committed use of a 140-bed dormitory that’s not currently occupied by students for housing on a temporary basis. 

On Friday, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf said Philadelphia was expected to receive Afghan refugees soon as part of the overall rescue operation. Among other preparations, physicians from Thomas Jefferson University and Temple University are expected to perform triage for refugees arriving at the airport.

Higher Education organizations and other academic groups were also offering their assistance and mobilizing support. For example:

  • American Council on Education President Ted Mitchell issued a statement that his organization would “work as closely as possible with the Department of State and Congress to do everything we can to open the doors of the United States to displaced Afghans who wish to join the millions of international students and scholars who have contributed to the cultural and intellectual vibrancy of our campuses and to our national economic prosperity.”
  • The Institute of International Education (IIE) has initiated the IIE Afghanistan Crisis Response, a fund that will help support displaced Afghan students and scholars.
  • Scholars at Risk, a global network of higher ed institutions that helps scholars under threat in their home countries find academic opportunities in other nations, wrote a letter to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken asking that several immediate steps be taken to expedite the evacuation and visa processing of Afghan students and scholars. The letter, which has collected hundreds of signatories, also requests “a dedicated funding stream for scholars, students, and civil society actors from undertake study, fellowships, lectureships, research positions or temporary academic positions at U.S. higher eduction institutions.”

Of course, all these official institutional responses come in addition to the thousands of college students across the U.S. who are engaging in grassroots fundraising, advocacy, and in what some have called a “digital Dunkirk,” serving as long-distance guides for American and Afghan friends trying to flee Afghanistan before time runs out.

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