Implementation and Cross-Campus Collaboration: An Interview with Members of CFMDE

This is part of our Campus Spotlight on the Consortium on Forced Migration, Displacement, and Education (CFMDE).

One of the objectives behind the Consortium on Forced Migration, Displacement, and Education is bridging the gaps between liberal arts institutions. The member schools aim to do so through collaboration on a number of initiatives, one of which is the “Signature Project” at each institution. Bennington College’s initiative, Bennington Translates (BT), was formed through student interest and educators’ appreciation of translation. The project is led by Dr. Marguerite Feitlowitz. At Vassar, the director of the “New Americans” summer institute, John Bradley, as well as Consortium Project Director Maria Höhn, lend insight into the implementation of the program. Bard’s Berlin campus provides the perfect stage for the semester-long study away opportunities which Bard provides for Consortium students as its project, overseen by Dr. Kerry Brown. Sarah Lawrence’s intensive summer study and research programs in Malaysia and Switzerland are coordinated by Dr. Parthiban Muniandy of Sarah Lawrence and Dr. Adam Brown of the New School. The programs give Consortium students the opportunity to develop practical research skills and conceptualize migration and displacement in different geographic and cultural contexts.

The project directors explore the implementation process for the projects, and cross-campus collaboration that serves to enrich the entire Consortium.

—Matthew Brill-Carlat and Margaret Edgecombe for EuropeNow

EuropeNow How will students involved in Bennington Translates work as translators at Bennington or beyond?

Marguerite Feitlowitz We have begun working with Berkshire Immigrant Center; an initial project is the multi-lingual translation of a pamphlet (developed by the Paris, France Police Force) developed to help officers and immigrants better understand and trust one another. For example: “Your rear traffic light is out,” is a helpful phrase, but being stopped by a policeman is often scary—and the more literal, contextual, and cultural understanding there is on the street, the better for everyone.

Over the required eight-week Field Work Term, Bennington students undertake a host of postings and projects—at service, health and humanitarian organizations; refugee camps, publications and other media, NGOS, and so on. One of my students translated, for ReVista: The Harvard Magazine on Latin America, a review-essay on Sergio Bitar’s (a member of Allende’s cabinet) book about his time in a Chilean concentration camp. I was the author of the original essay, and this is typical of the ways in which we mentor and help our students publish beyond Bennington.

EuropeNow What aspects of this signature project will be student-directed? How will faculty and students shape the direction of the project over the grant period?

Marguerite Feitlowitz A project I have discussed with students and look forward to getting formally launched is a student-edited and produced publication on growing up multilingual and multi-cultural, in immigrant and/or diasporic contexts. The seed for this was sown in the Fall of 2017 during our reading of Lives in Translation: Bilingual Writers on Identity and Creativity and Translation (ed., Isabelle de Courtivron). This book includes such esteemed writers as Anita Desai, Eva Hoffman, Anton Shammas, Nancy Huston, Nuala Ní Dhombnaill; but while my students were admiring, they also said, “We don’t have such binary lives—we are simultaneously polyglot; we code switch; we span borders.” In the Fall of 2019, we will organize the student editorial board and they will take it from there: certainly an online publication (one-off or serial), with possibilities of a print edition, and related readings and round-tables—all directed by students. Without a doubt, there will opportunities for student participation across the Consortium.

EuropeNow Vassar is preparing to welcome its first cohort of New Americans students to campus this summer for three weeks. Could you describe the institute and how students will participate in it? How will they apply, what courses will they take, and what might they take away from the summer?

John Bradley The application can be obtained by email from We are currently in the process of seeking course proposals from faculty and expect one will be in the humanities and one in science/math.

Maria Höhn Finally, we have planned an art project that will bring our summer students and local youth together in a mural project. We believe that art can be a wonderful way for people from very different cultures to interact, and collaborate. We have invited Joel Bergner, a world-renowned mural artist to spend a week with the summer students and local students to design and execute a wall mural in the city of Poughkeepsie. We are hoping that this artistic project will allow the students to “make their mark” in our wider community. One possible academic class we are considering at this point is on adolescent literature on flight and displacement. If all works out as planned, the students will be able to take lessons of that growing body of literature to express their own stories of loss and making home anew in a foreign land in the mural project with Joel Bergner.

EuropeNow Who are the students that this is for? Where are they coming from?

John Bradley The program is for rising 11th and 12th graders who are refugee or forced immigrants who are interested in pursuing college after high school.

Maria Höhn Over the past few years Vassar Refugee Solidarity (VRS) has been working with a number of refugee advocacy and support groups in the greater New York area as well as Albany, New Haven, Baltimore, and Lancaster, PA. We will be working with our partners in these groups to help us put together our first class of students.

EuropeNow What would the trajectory for a student applying and participating in New Americans program be?

John Bradley The application process is straightforward. It involves completion of a personal statement and recommendations from two teachers. We expect that all students will enjoy, complete the summer program, and learn about themselves and their interests. As they return to their schools for their Junior or Senior Year, they will have the summer experience to draw upon as they decided the next step in the education and where to apply to college.

Maria Höhn Our hope is that Vassar student mentors who work with the summer students will stay in contact, but Vassar students in VRS have also developed a number of digital projects that will allow them to stay in touch with the summer students throughout the year. For example, through a Vassar donation, we were able to set up a computer lab at the Refugee Welcome Center in the West Hill neighborhood of Albany. Vassar student tutors will be working with the refugee students who frequent the center to help them prepare for NY state Regents exams and SATs.

EuropeNow How will this program benefit and engage the other Consortium schools?

John Bradley After we have piloted this program, it could be a model for the other Consortium schools. We also intend to recruit with our Consortium partners so if their local outreach projects have interested youth, we would welcome them to apply. Our hope is that the summer students begin to understand the strength of the liberal arts college, which benefits our Consortium schools in getting the message out to potential applicants who are refugees or forced immigrants.

EuropeNow Students from each Consortium school will have the opportunity to study together at Bard’s Berlin campus. How do you envision study at BCB being a unique opportunity for them to encounter new perspectives on forced migration?

Kerry Bystrom It seems really important for US students to have to chance to learn about and live in a different context of migration—one where politics are both quite distinct (for instance, the acceptance of Syrian refugees in 2015) and overlapping (in the case of rising populist movements). Defamiliarization of your local context not only opens up new parts of the world but also places the idea of home in a new light. Since Berlin is a center of innovation when it comes to refugee response, and very much in the world spotlight, it is a very interesting place to be engaged in this topic. The wealth of knowledge and connections at BCB means that Consortium students studying here will be in the thick of things, as they take classes that help them understand local politics from a variety of dimensions such as art, literature, and policy.

Students will have the opportunity to hear and learn from displaced scholars, through classes, lecture series and events associated with Scholars at Risk and threatened scholars we will be hosting for longer periods on campus. Students will also be able to take “blended” learning classes that bring together BA students at BCB with displaced students around the world studying with Kiron Open Higher Education.

EuropeNow How will students engage with issues around forced migration outside the classroom in Berlin?

Kerry Bystrom There are many possibilities, depending on student interest. Perhaps the most impactful form of engagement would be to intern in organizations working with forced migrants or related to migration more generally. Students in the past have interned at places like Back on Track Syria and Human Rights Matter. There are also monthly Campus Conversation events bringing students at BCB together with displaced people from the community, a huge series of off-campus lectures and art exhibitions dedicated to this topic, and shorter-term volunteer options through our Civic Engagement Office.

EuropeNow Students from each of the Consortium schools who participate in Sarah Lawrence’s summer program in Bern will have opportunities to connect with labs and organizations outside the traditional liberal arts classroom. What are some of these organizations? What opportunities will they offer to students who attend the program?

Adam Brown The main organization that students will be working with is the Emergency Department in the Insel. Students will have the opportunity to collaborate on a number of refugee mental health studies in the ER. Students will participate in didactics related to global mental health and they will have the chance to work on various aspects of the research process. Ideally, students will be working in small teams to carry out their own work this summer.

We will also be partnering with a number of start-ups and NGOs in Bern that will offer students opportunities to volunteer with their organizations. One organization that we are partnering with is called Powercoders. They are a training program that offers free intensive courses in coding to refugees in Switzerland. Upon graduating the students are then placed in internships in start-ups and tech companies throughout Switzerland.

EuropeNow Do the programs look for students with particular academic interests and backgrounds or from a particular class year?

Adam Brown For the summer program in Bern, students with some experience in social science research methods, especially psychology, will be important. Additionally, this program will be most relevant to students who have been studying and plan to pursue future studies and work in mental health fields. However, it will also be important for students to be interested and motivated to consider the political, social, cultural, and historical factors that shape the current context in Bern and the experiences of those individuals receiving treatment in the ER.

EuropeNow How will the other Consortium schools benefit from this program?

Adam Brown It is my hope that after the summer, those who were in Bern will present their work at their respective College and to members of the consortium. It will also be strongly encouraged that each student document their experience and publish their observations and research in media and academic journals. Furthermore, students will present their research at academic conferences the following year.

EuropeNow How will Consortium students benefit from working with graduate students and professors from the New School?

Adam Brown The graduate students attending this summer have been conducting their own research in refugee mental health, complex statistical modeling, and public health. The graduate students will offer research supervision, teach didactics in research and theory, and facilitate discussions and journal clubs. The students will also have the opportunity to work closely with the graduate students and potentially collaborate with them on their projects.

EuropeNow The program in Malaysia prompts students to study perspectives on migration and displacement in a non-American context. What will students do in Penang, Kuala Lumpur, and Ipoh, and what organizations will they work with?

Parthiban Muniandy In Penang, students will have the chance to work alongside graduate researchers from the Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) Penang campus, who work as volunteer teachers at some of the refugee schools on the island, such as the Penang Peace Building Center (also known as the Peace Learning Center). Through this opportunity, students will volunteer to work with Rohingya children in daily activities in the schools, while also helping provide information and knowledge-sharing about education for refugee children.

In Kuala Lumpur, the Consortium students will have the opportunity to work with locally-based community organizations and institutions, including UnRepresented KL (a group of volunteer ethnographic writers), R.AGE (an investigative journalist team with a strong focus on trafficking and undocumented lives), Tenaganita (a human rights NGO), and researchers from Khazanah Research Institute (KRI). While the primary focus of the program is to learn about conducting ethnographic research on displacement in a non-Western urban context, the opportunity to learn from and work with these organizations would also provide students with the chance to learn about the more “hidden” and invisible aspects of subaltern life in Kuala Lumpur – migrant women who experience trauma due to domestic abuse, refugees facing repatriation and detention, migrant workers suffering from severe work-related physical injuries and disabilities, and victims of sex-trafficking (including children).

Lastly, students will be spending a week in the city of Ipoh, as part of a workshop hosted by Institut Pondok Perancis (IPP) in collaboration with Alliance Francaise and the Embassy of France in Malaysia. This workshop consists of seminars, tours and activities led by ASEAN-based scholars who are based in the region. The “Methodological Summer School,” as it has been called, is a unique workshop that taps into the resources and expertise of an emerging network of ASEAN-China scholars under the leadership of Dr. Elsa Lafaye de Micheaux of University of Rennes 2 and the author of the “Development of Malaysian Capitalism.” As the summer school occurs during the last week of the study abroad program, Consortium students will have the opportunity to bring together the ethnographic writing projects they have been working on as a means to share knowledge with other participants at the summer school.

In the year to come, each school will lay the foundation for their multi-year projects. Bennington will invite noted translators from diasporic and immigrant background to campus to address classes and other groups of faculty and students, while launching the aforementioned student publication and exploring other ways to share the college’s work with Consortium partners and the broader public. Vassar will recruit students for the first summer of New Americans while working through potential stumbling blocks related to language skills, academic preparation, and families’ expectations of the college. New Americans is a step toward making Vassar a more accessible place for students who have experienced displacement while helping students build skills and experience that will aid them in their pursuit of higher education. Bard is currently searching for the faculty member in Middle Eastern Studies that they will hire as part of their push to develop the Berlin campus as a study away hub for the Consortium. This push also includes building a transnational classroom and media lab and preparing to welcome the first cohort of Consortium students this year. Sarah Lawrence is recruiting the first cohort of students to attend the summer research and study programs in Switzerland and Malaysia, building on the groundwork for lasting partnerships in both countries established by the faculty directors of the programs. Students who attend the programs will have opportunities to share their research and reflections with Consortium students and faculty at future Teaching Labs and Conferences.

The Signature Projects represent an important part of each college’s commitment to have students engage with the pressing challenges of forced migration, in a variety of geographic, historical, and cultural frameworks, during the undergraduate years. The Consortium members are looking forward to a year of committed action, experimentation, and reflection.

John Bradley is the Executive Director of the Vassar Urban Education Initiative, which is an educational outreach program to the Poughkeepsie public schools that connects Vassar students to the local district. He is a graduate from Yale College and the University of Chicago School of Business. John began his position at Vassar in 2017 after a long career in health care followed by ten years as the Executive Director of a homeless service agency in New Haven, CT. John is working with the Consortium on Forced Migration, Displacement, and Education on the New Americans summer program for high-school age youth who are refugees and forced migrants.

Maria Höhn is Professor of History on the Marion Musser Lloyd ’32 Chair at Vassar College. She teaches German history and German-American relations and is the author of three books that have been translated into German, Korean and Chinese. Höhn is the founder of VC Refugee Solidarity at Vassar College and the founder of the Mid-Hudson Refugee Solidarity Alliance as well as the Consortium on Forced Migration, Displacement and Education.

Adam Brown is a clinical psychologist whose research focuses on identifying psychological and biological factors that contribute to negative mental health outcomes following exposure to traumatic stress and developing interventions guided by advances in cognitive neuroscience. Prior to joining the faculty at the New School for Social Research, he was a member of the psychology faculty at Sarah Lawrence College. He holds an academic appointment as an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry, New York University School of Medicine and completed a two-year NIH funded postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Psychiatry, Weill Medical College of Cornell University. He leads Sarah Lawrence College’s summer of research and study in Bern, Switzerland.

Parthiban Muniandy researches temporary labor migration in Southeast Asia and South Asia, with a particular interest in exploring how new regimes of migration are emerging, under which “temporary labor” migrants are becoming increasingly commonplace in fast-developing societies in Asia. He is the author of Politics of the Temporary: Ethnography of Migrant life in Urban Malaysia (2015). His former appointments include Lecturer of Global Studies for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is the director of Sarah Lawrence’s summer research and study program in Kuala Lumpur, Penang, and Ipoh, Malaysia.

Marguerite Feitlowitz is the author of A Lexicon of Terror: Argentina and the Legacies of Torture. Feitlowitz has held two Fulbright Fellowships to Argentina (including a Senior Scholar Award), a Bunting Fellowship in nonfiction, and a Harvard Faculty Research grant. She was a visiting scholar at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Feitlowitz previously taught at Harvard University. BA, Colgate University; Université de Dijon. At Bennington, she has taught literature, writing, and literary translation since 2002 and is the founding director of Bennington Translates.

Kerry Bystrom teaches courses at Bard College Berlin at the intersection of aesthetics and politics, and on topics ranging from postcolonial studies and African and world literature to trauma and memory studies, human rights, and humanitarianism. Before arriving at Bard College Berlin in 2012, she taught at Princeton University, Bard College, the University of the Witwatersrand, and the University of Connecticut. Bystrom is the author of the monograph Democracy at Home: Family Fictions and Transitional Culture (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015). She is leading the Consortium’s development of a Bard College Berlin study away hub around forced migration.

Matthew Brill-Carlat is a graduating senior at Vassar College from Baltimore, Maryland. He is the Consortium Coordinator for the Consortium on Forced Migration, Displacement, and Education. At Vassar, he studies History with a Correlate (Minor) in Hispanic Studies. After studying in Havana, Cuba and Amman, Jordan, he is writing his thesis on an American-owned sugar plantation near Cienfuegos, Cuba during the abolition of slavery in the late 19th century. His research has also been published in the Michigan Journal of History.

Margaret Edgecombe is a first-year student at Vassar College and a prospective International Studies major. From Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, she serves as the Co-coordinator for the Mellon-funded Consortium on Forced Migration, Displacement, and Education. In addition to Vassar, she has studied in Toluca, Mexico and at Qasid Arabic Institute in Amman, Jordan.

Photo: Pen, Writing | Shutterstock
Published on March 5, 2019.


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