4 Lessons I Learned Passing a Refugee Resettlement Resolution on my College Campus
By Emma Marks, Ohio Legislative Coordinator, Amnesty International USA
Last Thursday, my college chapter of Amnesty International ate pizza and celebrated. We had just passed a refugee resettlement resolution that declared that the refugee crisis is a real and pressing issue, that refugees should continue to be resettled in Ohio and in the US, and that Wilmington College is a welcoming place for refugees. Deciding to work on a refugee resolution was intimidating, but with trial, error, and a whole lot of help, we were able to build a campaign that fit our campus’s culture. Here’s what we learned:
- Momentum is your friend
This fall, Wilmington College hosted a day of speakers and activities centered on the refugee crisis. By building on the passion this event unlocked, we collected the signatures of more than 10% of our student body on a petition supporting the resolution.
Unfortunately, not all campuses will serendipitously host a mandatory event on the topic of your resolution, but I have met with other Amnesty chapters who are doing the groundwork themselves. Some of the most creative ideas for momentum building I’ve heard include hosting a concert (#jamnesty), a spoken word poetry competition, or even a cozy discussion in a coffee shop. If your community has a refugee population, inviting a refugee to come speak about their experience could be incredibly powerful.
2. Leverage existing relationships
Wilmington College has a little more than one thousand students, so everyone knows everyone. At my favorite resolution planning meeting, each member of our group listed all of the other campus organizations in which they were involved. We have a running joke that I am an overly enthusiastic activist who scares away students who are just starting getting into activism, so I wasn’t always the right voice to approach other campus organizations. Instead, we met groups where they were, often sending their own members to meetings to ask for support. Through this tactic, we built a diverse coalition of 11 cosponsoring organizations.
By attending meetings we not only built a coalition, we also created space for a dialogue around refugees and challenged students to think critically. As a part of this process, we casually approached the Student Government Association members we knew. We mitigated many of their concerns about the resolution before we even officially presented it.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask. Don’t be afraid to listen.
A lot of the work we do for Amnesty International involves approaching people you don’t know, which I find challenging. Whenever I strike up a conversation, it feels like I can barely form a coherent sentence. With practice, I’ve found that focusing on why I am asking students to take action has helped. It’s hard to put yourself out there, but remembering your passion for human rights certainly helps. I was really nervous to approach the college president, but I found comfort in knowing I was asking him to speak up on behalf of people who are fleeing persecution. We found that the more we asked, the more we received. Three influential stakeholders on our campus, including the college president, wrote statements on behalf of our resolution.
As important as asking for support is listening. When I visited our LGBT student association, their president pointed out that our resolution lacked inclusive language declaring that refugees should be allowed to resettle in the US regardless of their sexuality or gender identity. With their support, we added this language, making our resolution stronger.
4. Is a victory a victory if no one hears a sound?
Since our resolution passed, the hard work has started as we publicize our success. We have tweeted, contacted our members of Congress about the support refugees have in their district, and reached out to local media about the resolution. Heck, even writing this blog post is a way of amplifying our message.
While one thousand students at a small college in the middle-of-nowhere-Ohio supporting refugees is great, our strongest impact will be challenging other campuses and communities to do the same. When faced with constant threats to human rights in the US and abroad, Amnesty activists must work with each other, sharing our successes and failures. I hope that the experience of our small chapter will inspire others to take up the banner of refugee resolutions.