In keeping with its goal to lead with action and not just discussion, The Women’s Institute at Russell Sage College is embarking on a multi-year project to provide direct support to female refugees and their families in New York’s Capital District. 

The institute, with Sage’s Office of Service Learning, is working with the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants’ Albany field office as its first Good Neighbors Team. 

USCRI expects approximately 500 refugees to arrive in Albany each year beginning in fall 2021, and is seeking teams of Good Neighbors who can provide a support network to these new residents.  

As the pilot partner, The Women’s Institute and Office of Service Learning will help USCRI lay the groundwork for successful teams of Good Neighbors throughout the region. The Institute’s involvement will also help it prepare for potential collaboration with Every Campus A Refuge. 

Every Campus A Refuge is a nonprofit that mobilizes colleges to make campus resources available to a refugee family. The specific assistance colleges provide varies, but could include employment, education and housing. 

ECAR founder Diya Abdo, Ph.D., a professor at Guilford College in North Carolina and the director for the Center for New North Carolinians, will participate in The Women’s Institute’s week of Global Peace and Social Activism activities, September 20-24. 

“The refugee experience puts tremendous pressure on families and on women in the process of relocating to a different culture and navigating a complex legal and bureaucratic environment,” said Women’s Institute Executive Director Shelly Calabrese.  

She said the institute will seek to support a single mom and her children.

“There are logistics we need to work on. This semester is really about Diya coming and assessing what Sage can do. We are hoping by spring semester to have things in place.”

Psychology major and Women’s Studies minor Eden Kuri ’23 is a Women’s Institute student-ambassador who will work specifically on the Good Neighbor and ECAR initiatives. 

She became interested in the cause during her summer research experience, investigating the obstacles that children and young adults who are refugees face in their pursuit of education. 

“A really big part of Women’s Studies is listening and learning from many different cultures’ perspectives and viewpoints,” Kuri said. 

She appreciates the opportunity to complement her academic research with “the human connection that comes with working one-on-one with people.”

Sage’s administration and The Women’s Institute Advisory board support the institute’s collaborations with USCRI and ECAR. 

Calabrese said the institute’s focus on refugees creates opportunities for collaborations within the Sage community as well. 

The institute is cosponsoring author Reyna Grande’s visit to campus this fall. Grande’s memoir, The Distance Between Us, is about her experience moving to the United States from Mexico as a child and was selected as the Dean’s Summer Reading assignment for first-year students. 

The institute will also work closely with the Office of Service Learning, which has a longstanding relationship with the Refugee Welcome Center in Albany, and with Sage’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, which is planning refugee and immigration-related programming. 

“This is a natural fit with activities throughout the college. So much has been leading to this,” said Calabrese.“It is a direction that a lot of people feel really good about and an opportunity to make a difference.”

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