By: Max Bruns ~Staff Writer~
Five days after the Paris terrorist attacks, Ohio Governor John Kasich wrote a letter to the president on Nov. 17, 2015 asking him to stop the flow of Syrian refugees to Ohio. Many of the terrorists had been linked to Syria through fake passports and backstories claiming their status as Syrian nationals, according to a BBC.
In spite of all the national pushback on the status of refugees and the controversial issue of how the U.S. should lend them aid, Xavier students through a student organization called Muskie Tigers are doing all they can to aid people who have been driven out of their homes and seek refuge in this country.
Muskie Tigers was founded in the 2014-15 academic year as a response to a service learning project through a class called Immigration Theology and Ethics. Since then, the club has grown from a casual trip to Withrow high school every week or so to a structured, well organized and reliable source of aid for Withrow’s refugee population. Stephanie Arias, club president, is proud of the direction in which her organization has gone.
“Tyler, one of the mentors who works closely with us through Withrow, mentioned the other day that Muskie Tigers coming twice a week creates a safe space for the refugee kids,” Arias said.
Tyler is the coach of Withrow’s soccer team, made up almost entirely of the refugee student population.
“Muskie Tigers gained members because Tyler told his team that they couldn’t play unless they went to tutoring,” Arias said. Xavier’s presence at Withrow through Muskie Tigers is a resource for students who come directly from places like Ghana, Nepal, Hispanic countries and poor French-speaking countries in Africa. These students now live in America and attend the high school as refugees.
“We don’t say refugees at the school or to each other in the club,” Arias said. “We say international students. But it’s important for us to remember that getting to know the students we are tutoring is a process because they are so different from a cultural perspective.” This project is something about which Arias has been passionate since she first got involved. She was taking the class Immigration Theology and Ethics under professor Suna-Koro, who is one of the clubs advisors. She took on the project of tutoring refugee students at Withrow with an older classmate, and when that classmate started studying abroad, Arias took over the project and made it a club.
“When I first went to Withrow to tutor, it felt a little chaotic,” Arias said. “The university didn’t even know we were going on some weeks. I knew right away that I wanted to start making the experience relationship-based and not just a group of kids going to the school once a week to provide a tutoring service.” Arias’ background as an Occupational Therapy major helped her develop a holistic approach to what she wanted to accomplish with the kids, she said.
“I always tell my members to take ten minutes, twenty minutes and ask them how their day went,” Arias said. “We field workshops about respect and facing fears, we’ve had thanksgiving dinner for the kids. My program is unique because it deals with the raw experience of kids who are just now being introduced to American culture. That’s why the relationship base between our students and theirs is so important.”
The new challenge for the Muskie Tigers is going to be relating to the Syrian refugees who are starting to arrive at Withrow. Despite Governor Kasich’s request, the first family of Syrian refugees moved to Cincinnati in November, and a student at Withrow is from Syria. As exciting as this is for the progress of the refugee movement, Arias is worried about the language barrier.
“Our club is a huge resource for these kids,” Arias said. “You know, they’re the ones getting bullied and picked on. Withrow is made up of minorities and they are the minority among the minorities. We don’t have anyone who can speak Arabic and Tyler is trying desperately to get more resources for the incoming Syrian population.”
“A lot of members get worried about how they’re going to relate to such cultural difference, and they end up falling in love with the rewarding and exciting challenge of making America feel like home for the students,” Arias said. “They really love overcoming cultural obstacles and learning about where the students are coming from.”
If being involved with the Tigers is something you’re interested in, you can email ariass1@ xavier.edu or visit their homepage on orgsync. They meet from 2:30 — 3:30 p.m. on Mondays and Thursdays at Withrow.