GTCC Hosts Author, Refugee Advocate
By Zac Goldstein
For Dr. Diya Abdo, movement is perpetual. Her life’s journey has taken her from Jordan to the United States, to a home and a job in Greensboro, and on Wednesday, to the Koury Auditorium on GTCC’s Jamestown campus where, in an event sponsored by the English Department and GTCC Foundation, she addressed students, faculty, and staff.
The Lincoln Financial Professor of English at Guilford College, Abdo contributed the essay “On Food and Other Weapons” to The Carolina Table, GTCC’s All College Read and Greensboro’s One City, One Book selection. She is also the author of American Refuge: True Stories of the Refugee Experience. The book was born from interviews with refugees that Abdo met via Every Campus a Refuge (ERAC), a charity that she founded in 2015 that houses refugees on college campuses and assists them during resettlement.
“Human beings have always moved, and they have done so largely to survive,” Abdo said, noting the dire circumstances that precede resettlement. In the case of those forced to flee because their lives were endangered, Abdo noted that “exile is the solution to the problem of death.”
Abdo called attention to several persistent myths that surround refugees, such as the ideas that they aren’t vetted or live happy lives once resettled. In contrast, Abdo said, refugees are extensively interviewed before their resettlement is approved, effectively forcing them to relive their traumas. She also noted that many end up in occupations well outside their chosen fields.
Abdo herself is a second-generation Palestinian refugee born in Jordan. Though she initially came to the United States to study American literature, she said the anti-Muslim/anti-Arab backlash that followed the September 11, 2001 attacks prompted her to focus on Arab women writers and culture.
Every Campus a Refugee later emerged from the Syrian refugee crisis. Abdo said watching Hungary, Austria, and Germany take in refugees caused her to consider how universities could respond. Tired of panels and petitions, she instead asked the president of Guilford College for a house.
Since then, ERAC has expanded onto other campuses. The original Guilford College chapter has resettled ninety refugees from places as diverse as Syria, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Venezuela.
Though the Greensboro area already had a longstanding refugee population – it is home to one of the largest Montagnard communities outside of Vietnam – Abdo said that it was not a familiar name to those ERAC assisted as several had to Google “Greensboro” as soon as they arrived.
Amid such hardships, Abdo said, “radical hospitality” can go a long way.