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A Millennial Commentary On The Refugee Crisis

Millennials are anything but lazy when it comes to issues of social justice.

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Quite recently, socially categorizing the millennial generation is a common challenge many millennials are encountering. In the small city of Syracuse, New York, it is easy for millennials to live in a bubble that may just prove the stereotype of millennials being selfish. However, an increasing awareness on the Le Moyne College Campus is challenging this notion.

On October 7 at 4 p.m., Le Moyne College will be beginning a series of "Campus Conversations" in which various current events and social justice issues are addressed within the context of the greater Syracuse area and on a multi-national level, with an emphasis on the Le Moyne community.

The first session, "Campus Conversation: Build a Bigger Wall?" will discuss the issue of displacement and first-world problems, including the Syrian refugee crisis. Faculty members will open the discussion, as well as students of various clubs--including Le Moyne's Model United Nations.

With events such as "Campus Conversations" Le Moyne is encouraging a more diverse and socially aware community. Coordinator of The Conversations, Dr. Erickson, Associate Professor of History at Le Moyne, commented, "We have a lot of intelligent and informed people on campus and the better we can share our knowledge, the better informed and engaged we can be. I would like students to develop the habit of reading [watching, listening to] the news critically and thinking and learning about current events. I would be happy if people leave with better questions that they had when they come in."

As Millennials, we are more socially aware than previous generations--that is why conversations like these are so prevalent. Digital media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram have allowed for this development. However, the extent with which users of such sites are informed varies tremendously.

All over the news today, reporters are covering the "refugee crisis" in the Middle East. With jargon used like "overwhelming border authorities" and "refugee torrent," it is no wonder some believe an invasion, perhaps greater than that of the Turks, is currently incapacitating Europe. I mean, that is all that is happening in Europe right now, right? At least until the news finds some three-headed goat in Romania with Ebola.

So here is the question on many Millennials' mind: how are we supposed to adequately discuss these issues?

The issue of knowing what language to use is difficult enough for many Millennials. Jennifer Duegaw, a senior Peace and Global Studies Major at Le Moyne College, recalled a topic mentioned in her international law class, "Differentiation of the terms 'migrants' and 'refugees' are necessary in international law, so why aren't they in a news article? Most people do not recognize the legal repercussions for the interchanging of such words. It is sad that millennials see this, as we are lucky enough to be well-versed in it in college, but where does that leave other generations?"

Professor of Communications and Film Studies at Le Moyne College, Leslie Streissguth, believes the implications for the incorrect use of such terms are problematic, but emphasized the "problematic" accessibility of news, which millennials have become accustomed to. "It is wonderful that there is immediate access to news, but it is also problematic that there is immediate access to news. The public following sources has to withhold judgment until enough reports have come in. The issue is that not many people are willing to sift through all the pieces of information to find the truth. So, people are not always accessing the full picture of a situation, and therefore carry opinions that do not have strong foundations."

Speaking on the matter is useless, as Streissguth pointed out, if one does not fully understand the topic being discussed.

Additionally, Associate Professor of Sociology at Le Moyne College, Matthew Loveland regards the issue as unavoidable, "None of us has complete information about global political issues. So therefore, every conversation is uninformed to some extent... If the media broadcasts opinion as analysis, which they increasingly do, then certainly we are going to have conversations that don't do justice to all the facts. All this said, it's not always easy to know what the facts are or what relevant information we don't know." According to Grace Babcock, a student at Le Moyne, "I think that social media has really enabled millennials to look past the filters of the mainstream media. If you can talk directly to people who know refugees, and if you can see first-hand stories that reveal people's humanity, that makes them more than just statistics. It motivates you to reach out and do something to help."

Unfortunately, the issue's time in the spotlight is seemingly dying out in news popularity, making discussions of the issue short-lived.

This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of speaking with two millennials working with millennial refugees, each with very different experiences, but similar urgent calls for continued aid.

Barbara Holzheuer, of Bonn, Germany, is volunteering in several groups. "I live close to one of the refugee housings and got asked by other volunteers to help teach German to a young man from Afghanistan." She also joined a group that offers the luxury of a small internet café,"So far, only six laptops are available six hours a week. Two of those six hours are reserved for kids. We're trying to expand the hours as well as offer the kids PC learning games to help them pass their classes."

According to Holzheuer, the Syrian refugees who have come to Germany have a high chance of being granted asylum. They want to learn German, study and find work, but most of all they want their families to be safe. "Politics are rarely discussed, for one because of the language barrier. Another reason is that they often want to concentrate rather on their survival and adaptation in a new country with a different culture."

Moving east, on the coast of Kvarner Bay lives Vedrana Šuković of Rijeka, Croatia, a volunteer for the Red Cross. She drives with her unit about five hours from her home bringing cheese and toasted bread in boxes, packaged separately, so the Red Cross can easily unpack the items to pass out. Specialty items--only passed out if other organizations or individual donors send them in--include boxes of lollipops, toffee, and cough syrup.

In a nation that already has so little, they are providing so much for their Eastern neighbors. Many people in Croatia are considered lucky to be working eight hours a week at a supermarket. Volunteering from about 7am-10pm a few times a week, Šuković admitted the situation in Croatia is grim for many, "No more registration, nothing... Nobody knows anything. No one knows how long this will last, or how to solve anything in the field... We all easily become incompetent. Doing best we can but it’s not enough... Fear and ignorance took over... Everybody on field are now volunteers, trying to help people... the cops, actual volunteers, people living nearby, and the Red Cross."

Palach Youth Center, in Rijeka, Croatia. Courtesy of Vedrana Šuković

The refugees in this crisis are in dire need of help and supplies. This crisis requires the help of selfless volunteers and donations. In the upcoming months, Le Moyne's chapter of The Odyssey will be added to this list of volunteers. Partnering with UNICEF, we will be sending raincoats and other supplies to refugee camps in Germany, Croatia and possibly Egypt, thanks to the connections we developed through the Facebook groups including "Dear Refugees, Welcome to Croatia." Even though we are a small group, we intend to uphold the Jesuit tenet of cura personalis (the care and development of the whole person, mind, body and soul), in none other than the millennial style.

I prefer my coffee scalding hot, with shots of Austen and Locke.

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