During the past few months, Tulsa has been preparing to welcome more than 800 of the 1,800 Afghan refugees approved to resettle in Oklahoma. When it came time to accept those fleeing Taliban rule, Tulsa did not shy away from the task, opening the city’s doors to the first Afghan newcomer on Sept. 27. Although a regular income assistance program for the refugees has yet to be established, each refugee will receive a one-time payment of $1,225 upon arrival, making the need for donations at this time crucial.
For its part, The University of Tulsa has seen an outpouring of efforts to support our new neighbors. Throughout the fall, students, faculty and staff have engaged in fundraisers, donation drives and other efforts to ensure Tulsa’s Afghan residents feel welcome and have the things they need to start a healthy, safe life here.
TU Afghan Refugee Scholarship
The first Afghan assistance initiative was established when TU announced it would offer two scholarships to Afghans seeking refuge in the United States as their government fell to the Taliban.
“TU has long been one of our nation’s most international universities, welcoming students from more than 60 countries to the heartland,” said President Brad Carson. “At a time when these brave young people need us most, we are opening our doors to provide a safe place to learn and grow.”
These scholarships cover the total cost of attendance for up to four years. The new funding does not take away from the millions of dollars TU already provides to students who receive merit- and need-based aid. “In addition to providing financial aid, The University of Tulsa stands ready to address the mental and emotional needs of these displaced students and prepare them to give back as successful TU alumni,” Carson said.
To be considered for TU’s Afghan Refugee Scholarship, students must:
- Apply as a first-time undergraduate for a bachelor’s degree.
- Have fled Afghanistan and can legally enter, or have legally entered, the United States.
- Demonstrate they would not have the financial means to otherwise attend TU.
- Be able to lawfully study full-time in the U.S.
All international applicants must provide the required academic and financial documentation, including proof of English proficiency. A list of requirements and links to the application are on TU’s International Admission page. For more information on the application process, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
During October, professors in TU’s Media Studies department came together to aid Eastern Oklahoma Catholic Charities in gathering supplies for refugee resettlement in Tulsa and on campus. After some discussion, a team of dedicated faculty got to work. Professor Mark Brewin brought a box to campus while professors Zenia Kish and Justin Rawlins researched what kinds of items were needed. After word spread of the donation bin in Oliphant Hall, items for the families rolled in. “We wanted to find a way to contribute and make it easier for others in the TU community to do so,” said Kish.
The department is accepting donations throughout November, this time shifting focus to a newly approved refugee resettlement program in Tulsa. B’nai Emunah received approval to accept 50 Afghan refugees in October and is in need of donations as refugees acclimate to their new homes. Media Studies will continue to accept donations on behalf of the synagogue well into the new year.
To donate, visit the first floor of Oliphant Hall outside the Media Studies department. Please check out the Catholic Charities’ donation list beforehand.
TU Student Afghan Assistance
After Kish spent time lecturing on the media representation of refugees, her students felt profoundly impacted. One student – Wes Addington, a media studies major and assistant director of TUTV — felt a deep responsibility to contribute to the cause. “Afghans joining our community are arriving in a new culture in an unfamiliar country after having their lives and homes disrupted,” he said. A member of the TU Student Afghan Assistance (TUSSA) initiative, Addington anticipates the university will continue providing its services well into spring 2022. “Central to the TU mission statement,” Addington remarked, “is the assertation that we are an institution committed to equity and service, and so it is central to the identity of this university to commit to movements such as assisting our new Afghan neighbors.”
Having raised $185 in ticket sales from their October movie night and cocoa event, TUSAA will focus its efforts on the TU-Afghan Cultural Exchange program (see below) for the time being.
Joining TUSAA’s GroupMe is a great way to stay up to date as well as attending the weekly meetings on Mondays at 7 p.m. in Great Hall B in the Student Union.
Asian American Student Association
On Oct. 22, the Asian American Student Association hosted a Thai tea and boba fundraiser for the TUSAA initiative. Association Vice President Theresa Lam and Historian Teresa Dinh made the Thai tea and boba from scratch, totaling an impressive eight gallons of tea. The team of students tallied their sales at $480 and completely sold out of their stock.
Association President Ha Huynh organized the event, reporting that some students stopped by simply to donate. “We are grateful to be able to use our positions and the AASA organization platform to contribute to the cause,” said Ha. “Our next fundraiser will take place at our Lunar New Year event in the spring. We hope to once again use our platform to aid Afghan asylum seekers.”
TU-Afghan Cultural Exchange program
Starting in January, TU students, faculty and staff will have the opportunity to introduce Afghan refugees to their new home through the TU-Afghan Culture Exchange (TU-ACE) program. Working in partnership with the Department of Anthropology, Center for Global Engagement, Office of Community and Civic Engagement, Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and TUSSA, Associate Professor of Anthropology Danielle Macdonald began this initiative after volunteering to help teach Eastern Oklahoma Catholic Charity’s cultural orientation classes for Afghan newcomers. At this federally mandated program, Macdonald teaches cultural courses and looks after children while their parents are in class. She will begin teaching cultural orientation classes for Afghans through B’nai Emunah’s refugee resettlement agency later this year.
Recognizing there is a need to support Afghan youth, the goal of TU-ACE is to build a community between TU students and young adult Afghans to instill a sense of belonging to the newcomers. The program will broaden the minds of TU students as they, in turn, learn about Afghan culture and customs.
The program will run from January to May and will include Afghan youths ages 18 to 25. Refugees and students will meet once a week to practice English language skills for Afghans and Pashto/Dari skills for TU students. In addition to practicing language skills, students and refugees will exchange cultural knowledge and visit local cultural institutions and events. In doing so, the program hopes to help Afghan youths feel more immersed and comfortable in their new city. Macdonald encourages everyone to consider taking part in the cultural exchange: “It’s important for us to help Afghan young adults develop peer support networks and friendships in their new home.”
TU-ACE will provide cultural orientation training prior to the first meeting in January. Faculty and staff can contribute by transporting Afghan youths to campus. Additionally, those who have knowledge of Pashto or Dari or who are interested in helping in other ways can reach out to Macdonald via email at email@example.com.
At The University of Tulsa College of Law, students and faculty are busy preparing to assist Afghan newcomers to the city who wish to apply for asylum in the United States. Named Project 850 after the number of people from Afghanistan slated to come to Tulsa, this initiative falls under the umbrella of TU Law’s Tulsa Immigrant Resource Network (TIRN).
“The majority of Afghans coming to Tulsa and the U.S. in general will be here on what’s called humanitarian parole,” explained TIRN Director Robin Sherman. “While it confers the right to live in this country for two years, humanitarian parole isn’t a route to lawful immigration status. Therefore, we expect that most of the Afghans coming to Tulsa will want to seek asylum, and that application must be made within one year of setting foot in the U.S.”
The main thrust of Project 850 is to provide Tulsa’s Afghan newcomers – many of whom are unaccompanied children – with an initial screening on their journey to applying for asylum. To that end, TIRN has convened four Saturday sessions this fall to train the 40 TU Law students who volunteered to undertake that work. This principally entails project organization, information gathering and initial legal screenings. TIRN will collaborate with Catholic Charities to refer asylum candidates to licensed attorneys who have been vetted and recruited to the project (TIRN held a training session for them on Nov. 20).
Students stepping up
“The many students who have signed on to Project 850 come from all three years of TU Law’s Juris Doctor program and a wide variety of backgrounds,” observed Associate Dean for Experiential Learning Mimi Marton. “Robin and I are deeply inspired by their dedication.”
One such student is Mosiah Olvera Rodriguez (1L), whose main role is to organize volunteers and coordinate training sessions. He also will gather information from the Afghans to help determine the immigration benefits for which they will qualify.
“Being involved in Project 850 matters to me because I know what it is like to have to go through the immigration process,” Rodriguez said. “I know how hard and lonely it is and how scary it is. Your life depends on some forms or on an immigration officer. I want to help people gain the same American dream I received.” For Rodriguez, the experience has been “life changing. It’s taught me that I can do hard things in law, which means that one day I can do other hard things, such as apply for competitive jobs or start my own firm.”
Further along in her legal studies is Caroline Bezner (3L), co-president of TU Law’s Immigration Law Society. She assists with recruiting volunteers for Project 850 and organizing training sessions. Later, she will conduct intakes and triage the Afghans arriving in Tulsa.
Like Rodriguez, Bezner is deeply committed to aiding these newcomers. “I believe the resettled Afghans deserve the chance to escape a repressive regime and live out their dreams in the United States,” she said. “I can’t imagine what their lives were like in Afghanistan during the period that the Taliban retook control, but I do know it takes a lot of courage and strength to make the journey here for something better. Then, after making the journey, they must face an immigration system that is daunting and confusing. I want to be there to lift some of those worries off their shoulders by making this process more manageable.”
While she is not certain she will focus on immigration law after graduating, Bezner values the opportunity Project 850 gives her to learn how to conduct “trauma-informed” interviewing. Having this skill “is important because, in all areas of law, you could run into a client who has dealt with trauma or extremely difficult life circumstances. Being aware of the things people have gone through and coming from a place of wanting to understand their perspectives can inform the kinds of questions you ask and how you ask them.”
Visionary community partner
In addition to the enthusiastic participation of TU Law students, Marton and Sherman are grateful for the generosity of the George Kaiser Family Foundation, a longtime supporter of TIRN. Recently, GKFF agreed to fund a TIRN legal fellow specifically dedicated to organizing and overseeing Project 850’s humanitarian endeavor.
Interested in supporting or volunteering with one of the great organizations mentioned in this story? Contact these resources for more information:
Media Studies Donation Drive: Zenia Kish at firstname.lastname@example.org
TU Student Afghan Assistance: Join their GroupMe to stay up to date on meetings and volunteer opportunities.
Asian American Student Association: Contact email@example.com to volunteer and stay informed on future fundraising events.
TU-Afghan Cultural Exchange: Danielle Macdonald at firstname.lastname@example.org
Project 850: Mosiah Olvera Rodriguez at email@example.com