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Our University's Place in a Refugee Community

By Ryan Orr

Ryan is a fourth-year Global Public Health and Biology major and Bioethics minor. He currently serves as a Student Representative for the UVa College of Art & Sciences College Foundation, Program Director for the Madison House Hospice Program, and Peer Mentor for UVa's Peers Are Listening Society. Ryan has been actively involved in interdisciplinary research on Grounds with interests spanning from the microbiology of antibiotic resistance to global health disparities in underserved and vulnerable populations.

The rolling mountaintops, aged to a smooth finish by years of wind gusts, look over us all as we meander through the campus of the University of Virginia (UVa). Many of us hold the Virginia Commonwealth as our natural home, having lived in Virginia for most of our lives. We have come together and joined the UVa Community with nearly always a seamless transition out of high school. We’ve been privileged to grow into adulthood so securely.


UVa has made an impressive effort to expand it gaze beyond Charlottesville, Virginia, and the United States. UVa’s Center for Global Health is an excellent example of this kind of outreach and serves as an ever present resource for UVa students to conduct international research and explore topics that beyond the invisible boundaries of the University of Virginia.


This empowerment of students is an incredible move for the University and creates incredible momentum to move us towards a global university. However, while we recognize that the future of our society will be ever increasingly global, it would be ignorant of us, as students, to think that the world does not come to us. Migration, whether voluntary or forced, has tied members of the international community into the threadwork of what used to be the strictly American city of Charlottesville, Virginia.


The International Rescue Committee (IRC), located barely ten minutes outside of the UVa campus, has remained as a consistent source for the influx of refugees to Charlottesville. In operation since 1998, IRC Charlottesville has “welcomed over 3,000 refugees from 32 countries” while providing extensive transitional services during the acclimation process.1 The IRC, itself, has significant ties with UVa students offering internships, volunteer opportunities, and engagement events while serving those who pass through their doors, coming from whatever turmoil and suffering they have previously encountered, and out onto the streets of our Charlottesville.


UVa has strived to meet a certain level of engagement with this refugee population. The University of Virginia Department of Family Medicine established the International Family Medicine Clinic (IFMC) in 2002, provides comprehensive and culturally competent health care to this vulnerable group. UVa faculty and students have strived to meet the demands of helping this community, including the comprehensive work of UVa Associate Professor Christie Mahoney. Mahoney’s work in social entrepreneurship and global advocacy for refugee populations has given incredible insight into this world, all the while empowering UVa students.


At an institutional level, UVa should always ask itself what more it could be doing to expand its reach and make a deeper impact with targeted projects. While the UVa administration has facilitated focus on education on refugee populations, these people must not remain as ants underneath a magnifying glass. The university has the potential to be an extraordinary advocate to trigger efforts in outreach and service, not just abroad, but especially in the community in which it lies. The current political turmoil surrounding the United States’ refugee program and refugees, themselves, should be enough to convince UVa to act now. Working local is still thinking global - we must not allow our heads to rise and our gaze to go past our new neighbors and friends.


1. International Rescue Committee. (2017).

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