Student Leaders Gather at JRS/USA’s Leadership Summit
27 July 2021|Chloe Gunther
During a three-day virtual event, high school and college students across the country gathered to learn about asylum seeking, the refugee resettlement process and how to develop Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) programs on their campuses. Each day, students had the opportunity to hear from and engage with two different speakers from JRS and then spent time debriefing and brainstorming with fellow students.
“I look forward to bringing everything I learned to my university… I appreciated the opportunity to talk about everything we learned with other college students,” said Syrielle Clement, a junior at Cornell University. Syrielle got involved with Jesuit Refugee Service/USA (JRS/USA) by participating in 2021’s Advocacy Day when students across the country spoke to their local representatives on behalf of refugee rights. “I recommend the summit to any [student] interested in immigration issues,” she said.
On Day One, the first presenter provided insight on the structure of JRS/USA programs, specifically focusing on JRS’s work in Iraq. Then, the US Border Program Manager, Maria Sajquim de Torres, called from El Paso, Texas, to describe the situations and people she has frequently encountered in detainment shelters. Hearing these stories from the frontlines was one of the most impactful moments of the summit for Elizabeth Curtin, a high school senior, who had signed up to learn how to implement JRS/USA programs in her community.
Students were asked to read the Global Trends Report from UNHCR in the days leading up to the summit and Elizabeth expressed how hearing the personal stories helped her get a better sense of the statistics she had read. This made her beg the question, “How is it that the leader of the free world cannot figure this [refugee crisis] out?”
On the second day, two JRS student leaders, one a former refugee studying at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio, and the other a recent graduate from Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, provided firsthand accounts on developing student run advocacy programs on campuses.
The third day of the conference featured Giulia McPherson, the Director of Advocacy at JRS/USA. Articulating the potential the United States has to lead the world in refugee resettlement, she highlighted upcoming events and resources for students to attend and take action with on their campuses.
The summit concluded with a discussion on how to share refugees’ stories and celebrate each individual’s dignity and personal agency. The conversation addressed the ways social media impacts communication, especially younger generations, and how multi-media platforms might continue to help raise awareness and advocate for refugee rights.
The summit drew from students representing schools all across the United States. As Carolina Taquechel, former JRS Action Team Leader from Spring Hill, said, “If it’s in Mobile, Alabama, it’s where you are too.”
Chloe Gunther is a student at Seattle University, a JRS Student Leader Summit Participant, and an editorial intern at America Media.