Diya Abdo, associate professor of English at Guilford, was awarded the 2019 Thomas Ehrlich Civically Engaged Faculty Award. The Ehrlich award was presented by Campus Compact, an organization of over 1,000 colleges across the nation that supports civic education and community development. Recipients of this award will be recognized at Campus Compact’s Compact20 national conference, held in Seattle, WA from Mar. 29 to Apr. 1, 2020.
The Ehrlich award recognizes senior faculty members that advance students’ civic learning, conduct community-based research and enhance higher education’s contributions to the public good. Abdo was recognized for her leadership and community work, specifically through the Every Campus A Refuge (ECAR) initiative that she founded in 2015.
“The initial goal was to host a refugee family on Guilford’s campus, and then that quickly evolved into trying to get other campuses to host refugees on campus grounds and support them in resettlement,” said Abdo.
In January of 2016, ECAR hosted their very first guest on Guilford’s campus.
“We actively work to make sure we are not simply providing material assistance, but community support and information,” said Program Coordinator of ECAR Kathleen Herbst. “There are so many legal and social aspects to adjusting to the United States, and we want to aid in making that transition as smooth as possible. Activities like bringing guests to sporting events, sharing meals and having conversations can provide a sense of community, lessening the loneliness that is so common among new arrivals.”
Not only is ECAR important in aiding refugees, but it also provides a new perspective and new experiences to Guilford students.
“It has shown me what it truly means to be mindful of resources. I have learned that a college campus can be utilized as a home and caring community for those struggling to resettle,” said Rabia Kang, student of Abdo. “ECAR has shed light on the stigma and obstacles faced by refugees in the local community.”
Through the principals shown in ECAR, Abdo herself has impacted and inspired her students.
“She facilitates activism and civic learning among her students, and has even created a major and minor in ECAR,” said Kang. “Diya also tirelessly seeks local opportunities for refugees in partnering with various resettlement organizations, nonprofits and fundraising. She has enriched my education in instructing about the misperceptions and issues surrounding her cause. Her passion is clear.”
Since its formation in 2015, ECAR has also spread to other colleges across the nation, including colleges in Florida, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Ohio and more.
“I think what’s happening now with refugees can feel really hopeless and depressing. If campuses are thinking ‘well what can we do?’, here’s a tangible thing that you can do,” said Abdo. “I think that the impact is that it makes us feel useful. It makes us feel like we are contributing, like we are doing.”
In the future, ECAR plans on spreading its message to more campuses across the nation.
“Ideally, ECAR will continue to develop on campuses across the country and world. It’s incredibly important, especially given the current administration’s cuts on the number of refugees the US will accept, for campuses to show that new arrivals to the US are welcome in our communities,” said Herbst. “The Guilford chapter specifically is constantly growing and changing. Because students are such an essential part of ECAR, we constantly have fresh, new ideas for supportive projects and creative programs.”
Editor’s note: This story originally was published in Volume 106, Issue 2 of The Guilfordian on Oct. 11 2019.