Several dozen students gathered in the Friends Meeting House on the edge of campus late last week to hold a Collection for the European refugee crisis. The Collection was organized by students Istvan Cselotei ’18 and Rares Mosneanu ’18, as well as Director of Religious and Spiritual Life Joyce Tompkins, Student Wellness Program Manager Noemí Fernández, and Director of International Student Services Jennifer Marks-Gold.
The collection represents a campus response to the massive increase in the number of refugees flooding into Europe from regions of conflict in the Middle East with the intention of allowing those in attendance to share any and all feelings or thoughts they had regarding the topic.
The collection began with a brief introduction by Tompkins, who co-facilitated the event with Fernández. Tompkins explained the rules of collection, including the precedent of silence and freedom to speak when moved. Since the refugee crisis is a source of social and political contention, Tompkins also emphasized that the collection was for sharing, not debate or argument.
Fernández was the first to share during the collection, alluding to her connection to immigration and the emotional and spiritual impacts it has had on her as the descendent of Jewish and Latino immigrants. Student organizers Mosneanu (from Romania) and Cselotei (from Hungary) also shared their stories, both students having ties to countries where the crisis has been a large part of the national conversation and everyday experience.
Many parts of the college community were represented at the collection, from older residents of Swarthmore to college faculty to administrators. With such a varied audience, some were surprised at the openness and receptiveness that they felt characterized the collection.
“I actually didn’t think some of the people would be invested — to come and hear and listen and talk,” said Cselotei. The collection, in fact, lasted for an entire hour, filling the time with anecdotes and silence, alternately allowing members to share and absorb.
Others were happily surprised that students at Swarthmore actually showed up to the event.
“One of the things I understand is that we do live in a bubble, and it’s easy to get distracted. But we do have so many opportunities like these to be more in touch with what’s going on in the world,” said Jasmine Anouna ’18.
Some, like Vishnu Gupta ’18, also noted the certain privileges of being on Swarthmore’s campus and the distance, at least physically, from the crisis, saying, “I’m glad that so many people from a position of privilege care about this issue.”
Maurice Eldridge ’61, Special Assistant for College and Community Relations, spoke at the collection and shared appreciation for the space and its ability to facilitate thoughtfulness and healing.
“How we live our lives — the way that we connect to and deal with one another — is part of the doing and has to become a part of who we are so that it’s not this artificial thing,” Eldridge said. “That’s why I feel being in a place like this and having a place to reflect and talk helps you internalize some of these things.”
Despite not sharing herself, Anouna also felt moved by the content of the stories and the general atmosphere of the room.
“I have no intricate story to tell, nothing is really directly related to me,” she explained. “In spite of that I’m so grateful to hear [the stories] and for the opportunity to actually be in a room with so many people and say nothing, but feel so much. … The absence of words isn’t negative, and that’s why I appreciate moments like these.”
The collection last week was followed up by a faculty panel this past Wednesday night, which approximately 100 community members attended.