November 2021 – Every Campus a Refuge (ECAR), a nonprofit founded by Drew University alum Diya Abdo G’98,’05, was among 10 awardees of the 2021 J.M.K. Innovation Prize.
Selected from more than 2,800 organizations with “transformative potential” in the fields of social justice, the environment, and heritage conservation, ECAR will receive $175,000 over three years and participate in collaborative learning opportunities to help further their work.
Abdo, professor of English at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC, founded ECAR in 2015 in an effort to address the global refugee crisis by offering refugee families housing, food, and other resources offered on a college campus to help ease their transition to life in a new country.
“ECAR was inspired by the concept of radical hospitality,” explained Abdo, who earned her master of arts and PhD in English literature at Drew’s Caspersen School of Graduate Studies.
“When Pope Francis called on every European parish to host a refugee family in 2015, I thought, Isn’t a college or university just like a parish—a small city bound by shared values—with everything necessary to support refugees? I realized that the ‘ivory tower’ exclusivity of college and university campuses can be fundamentally upended so that social justice for refugees would be pursued, and their belonging—rather than difference—would be enhanced.”
Thus far, ECAR has hosted more than 100 refugees, with eight campuses joining the program. Abdo hopes that the exposure and prestige of earning the J.M.K. Innovation Prize will earn ECAR buy-in from college and university administrators, while the funding will allow the initiative to scale up quickly and nimbly.
"Diya’s current difficult work of bringing together peoples with different histories overwhelms me with pride." Peggy Samuels, professor of English
“This is especially important right now when this country is welcoming thousands of Afghani evacuees who need immediate housing,” she said.
Abdo pointed to a number of mentors from her time at Drew as offering important support and guidance that have paid dividends since leaving The Forest.
“I am ever grateful to my mentor, professor, and advisor Peggy Samuels, and professors Wendy Kolmar and Sandra Jamieson. Their support whenever I needed to pivot in my focus as a graduate student made me feel like pivoting was welcomed and necessary in response to urgent needs.”
Samuels remembers Abdo seeming “spectacular” the first time she met her, and was not disappointed.
“Diya became the grad student advisor for the Muslim Student Association and helped the Drew community understand Muslims after 9/11 when fear and hostility was mixed with enough curiosity to give us all an opening to learn from each other—it was not easy to orchestrate meaningful conversations at that time,” said Samuels.
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