SA passes resolution to welcome refugees to the College

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Student Assembly unanimously passed the "Refugees Welcome Resolution." EMMA FORD AND KIMBERLY LORES / THE FLAT HAT

April 2, Student Assembly unanimously passed the “Refugees Welcome Resolution”, which was sponsored by the College of William and Mary’s chapter of Amnesty International. The resolution signals community support for future initiatives that strive to increase transparency during the college admissions process for refugee and asylum applicants to the College.   

“The resolution itself doesn’t try to provide any advantages for refugees over non-refugee applicants to college, [but] it tries to take away some barriers that currently exist that non-refugee applicants to William and Mary don’t have to deal with,” Sen. Patrick Salsburg ’21 said. Salsburg also serves as the co-coordinator of the College’s Amnesty International chapter and supported the resolution’s passage in SA.   

The resolution consists of two sections. The first section comprises of a series of facts and statistics about the status of refugees globally, while also including a welcome to all refugees on the College’s campus. The second section details five action items written by members of the College’s Amnesty International chapter alongside several SA sponsors.  

Salsburg worked alongside Amnesty International Co-Coordinator Sam Berkrot ‘19, Treasurer and Refugee Committee Co-Chair Tara Clark ‘20 and Amnesty International member Yasmin Abusaif ’19 during the resolution crafting process, which started in December 2018. The resolution was sponsored by SA President Kelsey Vita ’20, former Class of 2019 President Sikander Zakriya19, Sen. Kyle Vasquez ’21 and outgoing Sen. Helen Tariku ’21.  

At the end of the fall 2018 semester, several Amnesty International representatives attended the organization’s regional conference, which inspired them to set goals in order to make the College a more inclusive environment for refugee students. At the conference, they obtained a resolution created by other members of Amnesty International and brought it back to members of SA for counsel 

“Initially, the resolution was just a statement saying that it’s beneficial to both refugees and asylees and William and Mary’s campus that we’re more diverse, inclusive and accessible, so we wanted to go a step further and to actually take the steps to make that a reality instead of just a goal,” Clark said. And that’s how we got our action items at the end of this resolution.” 

“Initially, the resolution was just a statement saying that it’s beneficial to both refugees and asylees and William and Mary’s campus that we’re more diverse, inclusive and accessible, so we wanted to go a step further and to actually take the steps to make that a reality instead of just a goal,” Clark said. And that’s how we got our action items at the end of this resolution.” 

Representatives from the Amnesty International chapter met with staff members in the Office of Undergraduate Admission, the Office of University Advancement, the Financial Aid Office, the Registrar, the Reves Center and the President’s Office over the course of the spring 2019 semester to identify ways to make the College’s resources more accessible to refugee applicants.   

“This resolution is specifically geared to refugees that have already been resettled in Virginia and in the U.S. … We are hoping to widen that [someday] … to refugees all around the world,” Clark said 

Clark, Berkrot and Salsburg explained why the six actionable items in the resolution are especially relevant to refugee and asylum applicants. 

First, Berkrot explained the importance of expanding the Registrar’s “domicile status” reclassification form, which would allow greater flexibility for refugee families as they strive to determine the feasibility of financing a college education.  

“In order to obtain in-state tuition, you need to have domiciled status,” Berkrot said. “It’s not citizenship; it’s a step below citizenship. It’s saying ‘I’m in Virginia and I intend to be in Virginia for a year.’ I believe … with the process now, you can achieve domiciled status if your attendance at William and Mary would be a year after entering the U.S., just a year after the first day of class … that being accepted into William and Mary, you get domiciled status from that.”  

This policy was true before the resolution was passed, but it was unclear through the College’s admissions information online. 

There is currently no refugee-specific information related to in-state tuition applications on the College’s admissions website.  

“What we’re asking for with this resolution is giving more routes for refugees to explain their specific circumstances, explaining to them how domiciled status works and how they can achieve it, and giving them opportunities and ways to speak directly to people who can help them through [the applications process],” Berkrot said. 

The third action item involves granting fee waivers to all refugee and asylee applicants, which was proposed directly by individuals in the Admissions Office.  

“[The Admissions Office showed that] they really are willing to work with us on this issue,” Clark said.   

“They’re lenient usually with granting fee waivers … but we really want to make clear that if you are a refugee student, you get a fee waiver,” Berkrot said. “This is something that we’re explicitly stating; there are no barriers for you. We think that’s important because, otherwise, [the college application process] seems daunting.”  

The direct outreach process identified in the resolution’s fourth action item incorporates mailing application advertisements and informational materials to potential refugee and asylum applicants that contain content specifically tailored to their unique application experiences.  

According to Clark, this method is modeled from George Mason University’s current form of direct outreach. This outreach program is crafted partially based on  GMU’s proximity to Northern Virginia, a region with denser refugee settlement than Williamsburg.  

The fifth action item recommends that the SA and the Office of University Advancement work collaboratively to grant scholarships to refugees and asylem applicants. 

Suzie Armstrong ’93, senior director of development for scholarships and special projects, proposed creating a Tribefunding campaign as a potential way to offer these scholarships. 

Tribefunding is a specific crowdfunding initiative unique to the College that takes applications for projects that support on-campus activism. Clark indicated that there may be potential to establish a long-term scholarship in partnership with the College after the Tribefunding campaign brings awareness to this cause.  

Finally, members worked alongside the Reves Center to discuss the final action item, which calls for including multilingual options on the College’s website. Berkrot advocated for a tool that allows users to toggle between translations of the admissions webpage for languages that are determined to be most needed, potentially including English, Spanish and Arabic.  

Berkrot also created a digital mockup of a refugee-centric information page under the admissions website containing relevant application information that mimicked the College’s formatting and font use. This mockup was presented to SA before senators cast a unanimous vote in favor of the resolution. 

Salsburg emphasized that the college application process is complex by nature. Having multilingual sources of information can help a prospective student’s family in supporting the applicant, especially considering some of these family members may not be fluent in English.    

“We went through the due process, we went through SA,” Berkrot said. “Now it’s [the administration’s] turn, and we will help them with [implementation] and continue to work with them.”

“We went through the due process, we went through SA,” Berkrot said. “Now it’s [the administration’s] turn, and we will help them with [implementation] and continue to work with them.” 

The next steps for the resolution following SA’s approval include a presentation to the Board of Visitors, which will be spearheaded by Vita. 

The members emphasized Vita’s involvement and expressed their gratitude for her steadfast support from the beginning of the resolution’s initial drafting.  

“We wanted to get this on paper, we wanted to get this through SA,” Berkrot said. “The next step is, ideally, the President’s Office to sign off on [the resolution], and then using this as something that we can hold ourselves accountable to and grow from. There’s a lot more work to be done … This is the beginning of something that can be really impactful. We just need to keep the momentum going.”