The Collegian
Thursday, September 21, 2023

UR to host persecuted scholar through Scholar Rescue Program

<p>The courtyard of the Carole Weinstein International Center.&nbsp;</p>

The courtyard of the Carole Weinstein International Center. 

Editor's note: UR will bring one scholar to campus next year, not one per year, as the original article stated. 

The University of Richmond is establishing a scholar rescue program to host professors from countries where they face harassment and even persecution. 

The university will bring one “scholar at risk” for a year to an academic department starting in the 2019-2020 academic year.

Yucel Yanikdag, associate professor of history, first introduced the idea of the scholar rescue program to the Office of the Provost. 

In countries such as Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Turkey, Ethiopia and Russia, some academics face threats of arrest and violence. Some fear that their lives are at risk. Many have fled their homeland in search of safety and stability; others are seeking to leave but cannot, Yanikdag said. 

“They don’t have jobs," he said. "They can’t go back to their country without facing severe consequences. Some barely escaped with their lives." 

UR’s scholar rescue program, in cooperation with the Scholar Rescue Fund, will provide job opportunities, health care protection and housing to the threatened scholar and their family for one year once they are chosen, Yanikdag said. 

According to the Scholars at Risk webpage, “a faculty committee will work to identify scholars and link them to UR departments that would be willing to take on the responsibility of hosting.”

Joyce van der Laan Smith, associate professor of accounting, said the E. Claiborne Robins School of Business would be happy to host a scholar at risk whose specialty might fit with one of the disciplines of the business school. 

“We are all citizens of the academic community," Van der Laan Smith said. "Supporting academic freedom is our obligation." 

The scholar will be able to offer elective courses that are specific to their backgrounds, Van der Laan Smith said. 

“We will help them teach and equip them with what they need to start building a new future," Sandra Joireman, associate provost for faculty, said. "Everyone’s looking for an open door. Through the program, we will be able to open for the scholars doors that have been closed for a long time.”

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Having a professor with a different life experience changes what happens in the classroom, and enables the professor to present new knowledge, Joireman said.

“The professor will be able to talk about what is happening in their countries in a different light, which will enrich us as a community with new knowledge,” Joireman said.

First-year Meena Darvesh had to flee her home country, Afghanistan, with her parents for their safety.

“Personally, hearing about my country from a scholar who had lived there will make me feel more connected to home," Darvesh said with tears gathering in her eyes. 

“Being forced out of your country is difficult," she said. "People who flee for safety are constantly looking for a better life. With a program such as the Scholar Rescue, there is still hope for those who are struggling to build a better future.” 

Chaired by Yanikdag, the Scholar Rescue Committee includes Sheila Carapico, professor of political science and international studies; Maia Linask, associate professor of economics; Atiya Husain, assistant professor of sociology; and Yetkin Borlu, visiting professor of sociology.

In the next two months, the committee will review the list of scholars seeking placement through the Scholar Rescue Fund. The committee will then link one professor to a department that is willing to host them, Yanikdag said.

Contact news writer Sana Azem at 

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