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Bard’s program reflects the College’s long history of supporting displaced students and faculty. In August 2021 Bard pledged 100 scholarships to students at risk following the Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan. In 2022 Bard launched the Refuge Scholarship for students from Ukraine and Russia. These initiatives now comprise one program that provides tuition, room, board, and assistance with books, medical, legal, and other needs to 130 students this academic year.

Photo by Aya Rebai HRA ’24. Courtesy of Bard College

In this Article:

  1. Purpose for the Program
  2. Key to the Success of the Program
  3. Key Actors and Participants
  4. Impact and Outcomes
  5. Implementation Steps
  6. Challenges Faced
  7. Resources and Partnerships
  8. Looking to the Future
  9. Contact

1. Purpose for the Program

The program seeks to make higher education accessible to students who have had their lives and education disrupted and for whom access to a college degree may otherwise be unattainable. The College also provides teaching and other employment opportunities to scholars at risk of persecution based on their research, identity, or political affiliations and activities. This program aims to provide safe access to higher education for young people forced to flee their countries of origin, leaving behind families, friends, homes, studies, and possessions. Students range in age from 17–31, and most are pursuing undergraduate degrees.

2. Key to the Success of the Program

Because Bard College is a globally-networked, small liberal arts college, the institution can respond quickly and nimbly to emerging crises. Their mission is to bring liberal education to places undergoing transition and crisis means that we have colleagues on the ground who can advise and assist in identifying and reaching eligible students.

The development of a cross-functional team to assess needs and strategize responses enabled Bard College to leverage the strengths and expertise of departments across the campus. Through outreach to alumni, the College created a Legal Hub which provided clinics to understand Asylum filing and connected all interested Afghan students to pro-bono attorneys. Additionally, their partnership with the New School Trauma + Global Mental Health Lab provided training in psychological first aid and Problem management + to members of the campus community.

3. Key Actors and Participants

The following stakeholders have all been critical to the success of Bard’s model. 

  • Leadership: Board of Trustees, College President, Executive Vice President
  • Administration: Dean of International Studies Office, Office of Admission, Director of Special Projects, Dean of Student Affairs Office, Dean of Studies, Health and Counseling Center, Registrar, Development Office, and Residence Life
  • Partners: USCRI Albany, NYU Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy & Psychoanalysis, The New School Trauma + Global Mental Health Lab, NY State Medicaid Navigator, IIE, State Department, Welcome Corps, Bard College Berlin, Bard College at Simon’s Rock, Open Society University Network Hubs for Connected Learning
  • Beneficiaries: Eligible students are those displaced by crises, with priority being given to students enrolled with one of Bard’s international partner institutions such as the American University of Afghanistan, American University of Central Asia, and the now-banned Smolny College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in St. Petersburg, Russia. 

5. Impact and Outcomes

Bard’s College has provided a safe place to live and learn to upwards of 130 students. In addition to earning credits toward their degrees, students have explored new interests in music, art, sports, leadership, and entrepreneurship. Bard has graduated 10 students so far, these alumni are all either employed or in graduate school. The percentage of Bard undergraduates for whom English is not a first or only language has increased, as has the number of international students and nationalities represented on campus. The impact of new partnerships has extended beyond the program and the initial target population. Many members of the campus community attended Psychological First Aid (PFA) training and a small group completed the full training in Problem Management +, a WHO-certified support program for individuals who have experienced trauma. Several new courses were developed over the last two years to both provide cohort-based safe environments for reflective practice as well as to explore root causes of displacement in a variety of contemporary contexts. 

Bard has been successful in securing grants and private donations to support the Sanctuary Fund, which is a Bard fund designated to support the needs of displaced and undocumented students. We have forged new community partnerships and increased the pool of volunteers and families with an interest in getting to know Bard students and providing short-term hosting opportunities during holidays and breaks. 

6. Implementation Steps

Here are a few steps to implement a similar program:

  1. Assess how such a program aligns with the institution’s mission and strategic goals. 
  2. Educate senior leadership regarding the range of needs and challenges inherent in such a program and ensure that the initiative has the buy-in of critical stakeholders across the organization.
  3. Determine how you will define your target population, and consider how the program can enhance other institutional work or partnerships in different parts of the world.
  4. Network with other colleges and universities engaged in similar work and build a cross-functional campus team that includes administrators and faculty with sufficient influence and authority to lead through change.
  5. Query how existing community relationships can be leveraged to amplify and support this work; consider new partnerships that involve mutual goals.

7. Challenges

  • Communication with the entire institutional community is critical to the program’s success. One of the challenges we faced early on was the need to ensure that everyone across campus understood the breadth and depth of the scholarships, particularly as students began to share their stories with trusted mentors and friends on campus. Keeping Bard’s website up to date with details about supplemental support, providing regular bulletins to campus and community partners, and articulating concrete ways to contribute to the effort helped to ensure all stakeholders had accurate information and could choose effective and appropriate ways to collaborate.
  • Managing expectations presented a second challenge specific to policies and boundaries around how much support the institution can provide during academic breaks; and how this compared to support provided to other vulnerable and high-need students on campus. Planning far ahead and aligning support with that provided to other student populations, to the extent possible, has helped us connect this work to the institution’s equity, access, and inclusion practices on campus.
  • Finally, it is important to understand what, if any, support structures students have outside of campus; this becomes critical when students may need to take a leave of absence for health and mental health reasons. In the absence of family or friends to provide a home to the students, organizations need to consider how to define and meet their duty of care responsibilities for students who cannot be in residence on campus for reasons related to their own well-being.

8. Resources and Partnerships

a. Financial – Significant funding is needed to cover the cost of attendance, even with a full-tuition scholarship. Beyond the usual costs of a semester at college, students need assistance with legal costs, medical costs, travel, housing, and food during school breaks.

b. Staff – It is helpful to have a small team of administrators who are aware of complex and myriad details related to students’ scholarships and immigration statuses and who can answer or redirect queries from campus colleagues, external stakeholders, and those who are advocating for potential students. It is also helpful for students to understand who the point people are for connections to resources and services, both on and off campus. Our model has two dedicated staff members; one providing psychosocial support related to life as a student and the other providing detailed technical assistance with resettlement procedures, Medicaid enrollment, and other areas of critical need.

c. Partners – Community partners who share an interest in education, and refugee support, and who can provide internships play an important role. National agencies and organizations working with refugee and immigrant students in higher education are critical to providing technical assistance, a sense of community for those engaged in the work, and meaningful opportunities related to career preparation and pathways.

9. Looking to the Future

Bard is a Welcome Corps on Campus partner. They plan to use the WCC structure to enroll students who are already connected to their refugee-facing educational programs and partnerships in Kenya and Jordan. 

10. Contact Information

Name: Jennifer Murray
Title: Dean of International Studies
Organization: Bard College
Email Address: jmurray@bard.edu
Phone Number: +1 845-758-7387

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