About 300 students have signed a petition to make Georgetown the first U.S. Catholic university to sponsor a family of refugees as part of new refugee advocacy group Heed the Call.
The petition, launched Feb. 21, has been endorsed by the Georgetown University College Democrats, Georgetown University College Republicans, Georgetown Bipartisan Coalition, and former Georgetown University Student Association candidates Garet Williams (COL ’18) and Habon Ali (SFS ’18).
Max Rosner (COL ’18) founded Heed the Call in September 2016 as a grassroots, student-led effort to organize a university sponsorship of a refugee family.
The organization’s name references Pope Francis’ 2015 call to followers to take in a refugee family. In September 2015, the Vatican sponsored a refugee family and has since taken in more families.
Heed the Call at Georgetown is also part of the nationwide “Every Campus a Refuge” movement, which aims to echo Pope Francis’ message.
Rosner first began working with the Georgetown administration last year, but gained traction this year after the signing of President Donald Trump’s January executive order banning all refugee admissions into the United States temporarily and Syrian refugees indefinitely.
“Going through that process takes a long time, and, sadly but luckily, with the executive order, much more attention on this issue emerged,” Rosner said.
According to Rosner, the administration had raised questions about whether it would be possible for an institution like Georgetown to take on a refugee family. Rosner said nine institutions sponsoring refugees, including Guilford College and Wake Forest University, have proven it is.
Holy Trinity Catholic Church, located blocks from the university on 36th Street NW, recently took in a refugee family. The family arrived last week after a monthslong effort by the church community to bring them to the United States. The church worked with an organization called Lutheran Social Services to match with a refugee family. Holy Trinity pastor Fr. Kevin Gillespie, who was involved in bringing the refugee family to the United States, said bringing the family took a concerted effort.
“There were around six committees organizing around transportation, food, law, diapers — all sorts of things. Our students got involved, the children at the school. Girl Scouts were in charge of diapers for the 1-year-old. It takes a village to adopt a family,” Gillespie said.
Although the sponsorship has worked well so far for both the Holy Trinity community and the refugee family, Gillespie said such an undertaking may be more difficult for an educational institution like Georgetown.
“Certainly, we welcome students to get involved and advocate and sponsor programs. It’s pretty complicated in terms of financial resources. We have immigration lawyers, we have state department people rallying, we have people donating. I think we’ve raised over $70,000. For students, I think the student call may be in a different direction,” Gillespie said.
Fr. Matthew Carnes, S.J., director of the Center for Latin American Studies, has worked with many of the Jesuits involved in Holy Trinity’s refugee efforts, and expressed his concern for the level of commitment it would require from the university.
“Holy Trinity has an advantage. It’s a parish that is stable that can be there over the long haul, and even though pastors come and go, there’s a way where the community stays for a long time,” Carnes said. “I would want to make sure that every last detail was worked out before you take it on because it would be unfair to the family to not be absolutely sure that you can accompany them for the long haul.”
Like Gillespie, Carnes also stressed the importance of students getting involved.
“We have a huge moral responsibility to be doing this and I think it’s great that students are doing it,” Carnes said.
Ali called on students to come together in solidarity for refugees.
“From the Women’s March we saw that when we stand in solidarity, regardless of your religion or sexuality, any background that you come from, it really makes a stand,” Ali said. “Standing up for refugees, living in a community in the Jesuit values, it’s our job to do so and it’s our job to be there. We are men and women for others; let us not just say that, but really be there for people.”
She called on more student organizations to advocate for the petition.
“It’s time for an organization such as GUSA to really take a stance on this,” Ali said. “Collectively, Georgetown students really understand the need to do something, and I am so happy that these groups came up with this initiative and are pushing for it.”
GUCD President Meredith Forsyth (SFS ’19) said the initiative is an opportunity for Georgetown to make a difference on an international issue.
“It’s a really, really important issue and it’s a great opportunity for Georgetown to take a stand and really live up to our Jesuit values here and heed the call of Pope Francis back from last September,” Forsyth said.
Ali said it falls upon the entire community to support refugees.
“As a refugee myself, at the end of the day we are all privileged,” Ali said. “I am privileged to be here, and it’s realizing that when you’re privileged with something it’s time to give back.”
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