Seeking a Safe Haven: UNT Refugee Summit 2017

Pamela Ashwood, the Southern Region GenUN Fellow and student at the University of North Texas, recaps her interview with the UNT GenUN chapter President following their October Refugee Summit. 

Down in the heart of Texas lives the University of North Texas at Denton (UNT). I had the pleasure of speaking with the President of the GenUN chapter at UNT about a spectacular event they put on earlier this October—a Refugee Summit. The official name of the event was Seeking a Safe Haven: UNT Refugee Summit 2017.

The event took place over an entire day filled with interactive expert panels, Q&A sessions, and interviews. It started with a keynote speaker, then transitioned into multiple guest speaker panel sessions. There were a lot of students asking many questions, which showed that they really were engaging with the content and that they wanted to get actively involved.  Next came the breakout sessions, where members of the GenUN chapter facilitated small groups of people through collaborative discussion. They discussed “what they gained from the summit and what avenues they could take to alleviate problems regarding the refugee crisis”.

Attending were esteemed guests such as Hala Halibi, who works with Islamic Refugee Relief, Linda Evans, a UNA-USA Dallas Chapter Board Member, as well as many more honorable guest speakers. The chapter invited government officials, refugee experts, professors, and students to come and present at the summit. They even provided continental breakfast, catered lunch, and gave out refreshments in between sessions. I am happy to report that the summit had a great turnout and was a huge success! There are even plans in the works to make this Summit an annual mainstay.

According to the UNT GenUN President, this summit was “heavily focused on awareness and action.” This chapter did not want the event to simply be about raising awareness, but also about informing attendees on ways that they could actively get involved with refugee issues.  They really wanted this to be an “all-inclusive event” that would give attendees a sort of “reality check” about refugee issues in North Texas and inspire them to want to actively get involved.

Many organizations and departments helped make this event as grand as it was. If you plan on recreating this event at your campus, you should consider reaching out to your campus’ departments and other student organizations. The departments of Sociology, Anthropology, and Political Science as well as student organizations like the Social Work Student Association and Future without Poverty, were instrumental in making this event happen. One tip that President Hussain would like to share with you all is to utilize social media when promoting the event. “The Facebook page really helped with attendance”, she said, so it is important to use it as much as possible when marketing the event.

President Hussain really hopes that this event will start a conversation about refugee issues and ways that a person can advocate for them, and that is what I really loved about this event!  Not only did it focus on bringing in multiple perspectives to raise awareness about refugee issues in Texas and the world, but it also put a strong emphasis on advocacy for refugee issues.

President Hussain would like to encourage all other chapters to create a similar event and to use this interview as a template. This Summit was a wonderfully innovative way to bring awareness to refugee issues.

Keep up the good work, UNT!