CentrePeace display awakens students to realities of Syrian refugee crisis


BY HAYLEY HOFFMAN – EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

By last count, over 4 million people have registered as Syrian refugees. This fact was just one of many exposed to students during “End of March” week, centered around a chain-link fence display found on the front lawn of the Campus Center. The display, put up by CentrePeace in partnership with Amnesty International, was intended to expose students to the realities of the Syrian refugee crisis.

CentrePeace advisor and H. W. Stodghill, Jr. and Adele H. Stodghill Professor of Religion Dr. Rick Axtell said the initial idea for the display arose following a convocation on the issue held in November, as well as from deep concerns amongst students and faculty over “the current crisis in Syria, as well as its spillover effects in the Middle East and Europe.”

“Particularly impressive is that the students in CentrePeace not only drew attention to an urgent and pressing international crisis, but conducted a letter-writing campaign on domestic angles to this crisis,” Dr. Axtell said. “They researched the issues, educated the campus in creative and evocative ways, and connected with legislation at both the federal and state levels.”

Sophomore Eh-Nay Thaw said this display speaks specifically to the organization’s core values.

“One of the core values of CentrePeace is a commitment to inform and educate the Centre community about social and environmental issues,” he said. “While our goal is raising awareness of these issues surrounding us, we are also committed to promoting peace and nonviolence. In the midst of hateful rhetoric and horrible incidents in our current political atmosphere surrounding us, our CentrePeace is taking actions, by displaying (somewhat provocative) images of Syrian refugees who are fleeing their homes due to civil war.”

The refugee crisis is one close to Thaw’s heart, as his family fled Myanmar when he was young and spent several years as a refugee in a camp in Thailand before coming to the United States.

“As someone who grown up in refugee camp, I can promise you that if you ask any refugee about the camp conditions, you’ll find out that it’s a place where you wouldn’t want to spend your life,” he explained. “We all need to know that refugees do not want to leave behind their homes, their community, and the life that they have established long ago to move to another country. Because they are given no option but to flee, we must acknowledge their situation and become more open-minded.”

Throughout the week, the display grew to be covered with the faces of 100 refugees peering through the chain-link fence. The fences were then moved indoors to coincide with a letter writing campaign on a national bill on refugees, as well as an Instagram campaign in coordination with Amnesty International.

“We also had an ‘ActionPeace,’ or a political action component, along with our display. Students communicated with Senators and Congressmen about Kentucky House Bills 5 and 6, which retain Medicaid and KYConnect for Kentuckians, and the subject of refugees on the whole,” sophomore Amaryst Parks said. “Many students thanked us for doing it and seemed to learn from it.”

Thaw said that members of CentrePeace hoped that students learned much about the refugee crisis from the weeklong event.

“We hoped that the Centre community would get a sense that we are a welcoming community, and that we have chosen hope over fear, love over hate, and unity among our citizens,” he said. “We hope that the Centre students, faculty, and staff will join us in standing up for the vulnerable people whose voices are not heard.”

Photos from the event, submitted by Thaw and Parks, can be found below.

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