Series on refugee crisis educates community

Photo by Matthew Tikhonovsky

Several recent domestic and international political events have led to an influx of refugees in nations around the world. It is easy to become isolated from this issue, get caught in daily living and forget that life is different and often difficult for many outside of Tech.

In an effort to bring awareness to the struggles refugees face to college communities and build empathy among students, siblings Matthew and Natalie Tikhonovsky started the series “Walk a Campus in My Shoes.”

While many things can be done to aid refugees, it all starts with educating and empowering those who have the ability to help.

With this in mind, the Tikhonovsky siblings set out to affect change by doing just that.

“The goal of the movement is to de-mystify and debunk common misconceptions surrounding the refugee crisis and also to mobilize college students to get involved with refugee relief efforts in their local communities,” said Matthew Tikhonovsky.

By partnering with the Muslim Student Organization (MSA) and the College Democrats, two Tech student-run organizations, the campaign was able to work to accomplish its goal.

Through a poster series that took place on Skiles Walkway from Jan. 23 to Jan. 25 and through the MSA bake sale, students were able to learn about the refugee crisis and better understand the vetting process, while also being given an immediate way to get involved.

“Through the poster series we were able to educate hundreds of students about the refugee crisis and, hopefully, debunk some of their misconceptions surrounding the vetting process,” Tikhonovsky said. “Also, to give students an immediate way to get involved, GT’s MSA ran a refugee relief bake sale, which raised over $350 to benefit refugees in the
Bay Area.”

In addition to this, the poster series was able to educate students about how to get involved locally in both Atlanta and nearby Clarkston.

“At Tech, we went one step further by advertising specific opportunities in the Atlanta and Clarkston areas for students to get involved, including by interning at World Relief Atlanta or tutoring refugee children through Paper Airplanes,” said Tikhonovsky.

Throughout the course of the poster series, students interacted with the volunteers and engaged in a meaningful conversation about the crisis. Tikhonovsky believes the event helped to foster a better understanding of the issue.

“Many students I talked to were surprised to learn about the resettlement and vetting processes, including that refugees must repay their travel loans and that, on average, the vetting process takes 18 years,” he said.

Furthermore, he believes that the event had a positive impact on campus and was surprised by the willingness of students to take time out of their day to educate themselves and contribute to helping the global community.

“Although I was only on campus for one day, all of the student feedback I received was extremely positive and hundreds of students expressed interest in getting involved,” he said. “I enjoyed experiencing Tech’s vibrant student activism and witnessing firsthand how passionate Tech students are about contributing to refugee relief efforts both at home
and abroad.”

While it is difficult to quantify the effects of the series on such a global and widespread issue, the campaign certainly did plenty to increase the awareness of students and to begin a conversation about the refugee crisis.

“At the end of the day, I believe the poster series showed Tech students that they can contribute to refugee relief efforts in Clarkston, which, just 15 miles from Tech, is home to over 40,000 refugees from all over the world,” commented Tikhonovsky of the impact of the poster series on the refugee crisis.

Engaging in the conversation and understanding the tools which can affect change are the first steps that need to be taken if the community, on both a collegiate and global scale, is to come together to create a solution — steps which were catalyzed through this poster series.

The work of the campaign has not ended even though the series at Tech is over.

Next week, “Walk a Campus in My Shoes” will head to Vanderbilt and is scheduled to be displayed at Yale, Columbia and William & Mary in the near future where more students will be given the tools to get involved and work for change.