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Helping Scholars at Risk

Emily Mockler

Massey College, University of Toronto

Throughout the globe, outstanding scholars are the victims of sectarian, ideological or territorial repression and violence.  Many are driven abroad or find that they are unable to return to their home countries. In the past, the University of Toronto has managed to find, from time to time, a place for such scholars on an ad hoc basis.  In 1999, the Massey College/University of Toronto School of Graduate Studies Scholar-at-Risk Program was inaugurated. Working with the Scholars at Risk Network, an international network of institutions of higher learning and learned societies based in New York City, the program has seen 19 individuals come through either as Visiting Scholars who are given the opportunity to guest lecture in various departments at the University or to do graduate work. We are a natural haven for the Scholars in that the College is a residential college situated within the grounds the St. George campus and houses 60 of the best and brightest students (Junior Fellows) who are carefully selected by multi-disciplinary academic committees at U of T.  By including the Scholars with the students along with several Senior Residents and Fellows, at meals, various events, panel discussions and lecture series, the mandate of the College which is to “provide a unique, congenial and intellectual environment for graduate students of distinguished ability in all disciplines to share in a rich and stimulating community” is achieved.

I intend to speak about the things that work and the things that are less successful. From the Canadian perspective, once the Scholars have entered Canada as refugees (they may have got as far as obtaining Permanent Resident Status, Canada’s version of a Green Card), they are entitled to apply for a Fellowship. Many Scholars who come into the program have suffered trauma of one sort or another.  They may have fled because of freedom of speech restraints. Some of the scholars have been physically tortured and show signs of it. The Scholars who are proactive (and encouraged to be so) are naturally the most successful.  We make a point of letting them know that we are not a hiring agency so that there is no sense of being cast aside at the end of their Fellowship.  Fellows are invited to continue their association at the College as Alumni so that there is not a complete break as they pursue placements, etc.  This is very important.  We have observed that their time with us can feel somewhat like being put on a pedestal (after years of little or no recognition) only to be politely taken down at the end of their Fellowship.  We have seen this happen so guarding against it from early in the Fellowship is necessary.

Recommendations:  If resources in various institutions are such that staff can assist in visa applications for entry to Canada or the United States, and dealing long distance with the Scholar-at-Risk candidate, this would be ideal. When resources are limited, we strongly recommend a close working relationship with the University departments interested in bringing in these Scholars. We have worked with the department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations coordinating several of our Scholars. With their close working relationship with the Middle East, they are willing to do the ground work in getting the Scholars out of dangerous situations. Our program can then take it from there. Our role is to provide some financial support and encourage integration into Massey College life.  Depending on how long the Scholar has spent in North America, their needs may be quite basic.  Finding out about this is advisable from the start.  Notices can be put out asking for assistance with housing needs in general. Successful Scholars-at-Risk are often those who are encouraged to work for themselves, ask for what they think will be beneficial for them (other than just financial aid) and to open up to those around them.

Session/Panel Title

The Impact of Immigration on Classical Studies in North America (organized by the Committee on the Status of Women and Minority Groups

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