Call for more refugees in the classroom
This academic year, refugees can once again attend lectures at the Department of Geography, Planning and Environment. According to initiator Kolar Aparna, Radboud University has changed ever since it had the refugee centre at Heumensoord as its neighbour, but there's a lot more that the university can do to help the new Nijmegen residents.
‘The Heumensoord camp may be gone, but there are still a lot of refugees in Nijmegen’, says Kolar Aparna, a PhD candidate at the Department of Geography, Planning and Environment (GPE). ‘It’s our social responsibility to give these refugees access to both the university and the city of Nijmegen.’
Aparna is the founder of Asylum University, an informal, low-key network that helps refugees gain access to higher education. The significance of this initiative became particularly evident last year, with the arrival of three thousand refugees in Heumensoord. One of them was Biniam, a former Vox columnist, who took classes at Radboud University.
‘I hope more programmes will start welcoming refugees into their classrooms’
This academic year, refugees can once again attend lectures at the Department of Geography, Planning and Environment. “In our opinion, these lectures are really enriched when refugees are given the opportunity to participate in the discussions and share their ideas,” says Aparna. ‘As for how the refugees themselves perceive these classes: you’ll have to ask them. We did ask ourselves the same sort of question of course; after all, some may not find geography all that interesting. That’s why I hope more programmes will start welcoming refugees into their classrooms.’
Aparna also stresses the importance of creating social networks by opening classrooms to refugees. ‘We wrote a letter of recommendation to the University of Amsterdam for Biniam, who now lives in Amsterdam. This letter was one of the reasons he was able to attend summer school this year.’
Food for thought
Aparna saw how the university changed with the arrival of Heumensoord. ‘The longer the camp existed, the less anxious the university became about getting involved in the refugee issue.’ The university’s most prominent contribution was the series of lectures entitled Food for Thought organised by the Faculty of Law. This lecture series even drew the Dutch Minister of Education to Nijmegen. The working group RU for Refugees also organised various activities.
Aparna does have concerns about the university’s initiatives. ‘Unfortunately, refugees are still treated like outsiders at times’, she says. ‘We have to come to the realisation that refugees are an integral part of our city.’ In other words: in order to make a real difference in the long term, it’s not enough to simply invite refugees to a workshop or a lecture series. We have to incorporate them into the Radboud community.
The biggest added value is the social contact these refugees make. Aparna gives the example of a refugee who lives in Nijmegen and is an expert in the field of geographic information systems (GIF). ‘My colleague Linda Carton helped him find an internship position. Who knows, he may just come back one day.’