By: Katie Morris, ’18
In life, we spend a lot of time asking why. Why me? Why now? We question the way people talk to us, we question the way people act and we question people’s motives. As humans, we are constantly in pursuit of answers. I became invested in the refugee crisis because I wanted to know why people, specifically Americans, are so afraid of the millions of refugees being forcefully displaced from their homes. I wanted to know why and I wanted to change their mindset surrounding the topic.
Through this internship, I have learned that not only do I need to change people’s minds but I need to educate them. My responsibilities for this internship are to promote the education of refugees. But I found that this was hard to do on Lehigh’s campus because much of our campus don’t know what a refugee is and without this knowledge they have no desire to support their education. So, I took a different approach. I decided to educate the campus on what it means to be a refugee. So instead of developing educational sources for refugee’s I was creating educational resources for students. My plan is that once I can get our campus engaged with the topic of refugees I can move forward in working on the education of these refugees.
One of the first events I held was a small screening of the film, Salam Neighbor. I was surprised by the number of people that came and was even more impressed with the dialogue that followed the film. We had at least five people who were engaging in the type of discussion that I wanted to facilitate on our entire campus. From here, I got the idea to escalate this event and have it reach a broader audience. For four months, I worked tirelessly to secure funding, negotiate a contract, develop an itinerary and so much more in order to screen this film on the biggest stage at Lehigh and have filmmaker, Zach Ingrasci there to give a keynote and participate in a question and answer.
The planning of this event was far more difficult, time-consuming and educational then I could have ever imagined. I was constantly putting myself outside of my comfort zone and working in areas that have never been my strong suit. I became increasingly comfortable pitching my event to people and asking them to sponsor my event. I have never liked asking people for me but the more I did it, the easier it became. Every day I was learning something new because I was being forced to do it without preparation. I was thrust into this new world full of contracts, rules and security concerns. Throughout this process, I had a lot of support but I was typically the only student among a large group of adults. I worked hard to make sure that my voice was heard and that my vision for this event did not get overshadowed.
Besides negotiating the speaker and budget I was also in charge of over 80 club members. I wanted to make them feel included but also had to manage who they were talking to and what they were say to ensure that everyone was on the same page. During one meeting, I had a club member tell me that I was taking on too much and that I wasn’t allowing them to do enough. This was a wake-up call for me. I like taking control of situations and I like having things done my way. But my club members comment brought to my attention that my way isn’t always the best way and that I needed to be more open to other people’s ideas as well as allow my members to do more tasks on their own.
This is how the idea for a Meet and Greet with the filmmaker was developed. I sat at a table with four other club members and we debated on the idea that we were spending so much money on this event but weren’t giving anything back to the refugees. We came up with the Meet and Greet to raise funds for the refugees. I largely allowed two of my club members to run this portion of the event which was a huge step for me in learning how to delegate and realizing that everything does not have to be done my way.
Prior to the film screening, we held one more event which was an advocacy event. We gave students white boards and asked them to write why they stand with refugees. We then took their picture with their answer and posted it all over social media. I was disappointed by the amount of negative responses we received but also the amount of people who didn’t know what it means to be a refugee. It reinforced the overall lack of knowledge that Lehigh students have regarding refugees and the ongoing crisis in countries around the world.
The film screening and keynote address of Salam Neighbor were the first steps in the right direction for our campus but there is still a lot that needs to be done. Next semester, I will be working on a film series based on the topic of migration that will be hosted in Arts Quest. I will also be working to host more speakers who can explain the refugee crisis and who can generate interest surrounding the topic. We plan to continue our fundraising efforts and are hoping to host a rivalry fundraiser with the No Lost Generation chapter at Lafayette.
This internship has been a far more impactful experience than I could ever imagine. In just four months I grew my club to over 80 members, hosted three events and raised over $1200 for the local refugee resettlement agency. This internship has taught me the value of money, persistence and connection. I became increasingly aware of the impact that money has in the world and on people. The more sponsors I received the more demands and commitments I had from these sponsors. Some sponsorships came with specific requests and regulations regarding their money. This is something that I have not had experience with in the past and was an important lesson for me. I began to understand the power that money can have over people, projects and organizations.
My persistence throughout this internship is what made my events successful. I worked tirelessly to ensure that we reached the goals which we set for ourselves. Our overall goal as a club for this semester was advocacy and fundraising surrounding the refugee crisis which we certainly achieved. My persistence regarding sponsors is what enabled us to host the screening of Salam Neighbor in the first place.
Lastly, the connections that I have gained throughout this experience have been invaluable. After the event, I was approached by a set of filmmakers who want to work with Lehigh to screen their film, After Spring, here next semester. I would have never developed this connection without this internship. I also met Professor Muhannad Suleiman who has become a valued colleague and will be introducing me to key figures in the local Syrian community. Through this internship, I have met people who are willing to take time out of their life to help me make this internship and the events associated with it a success. The assistance that I received from yourself, Sarah, the office of interdisciplinary programs and so many other people has been invaluable.
I am looking forward to using what I’ve learned this semester to further my efforts to educate Lehigh on the refugee crisis. The skills I learned this Fall semester are things that I could never have learned in a classroom. This internship gave me the chance to put myself out there and to learn by doing. I could not be more thankful for this experiences and the opportunities that it has provided me. I will continue to search for answers regarding people’s apathy towards the refugee crisis and will work to encourage students to be more curious and to look outside of Lehigh’s walls.