Bennington College developing program on displacement and forced migration

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BENNINGTON — A consortium of institutions including Bennington College has received a $135,000 grant to explore creating a curriculum addressing the ever-growing problem of displacement and forced migration.

The money will be divided between the member colleges of the consortium, which besides Bennington is made up of Vassar College of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., Bard College of Annadale-on-Hudson, N.Y., and Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y. Susan Sgorbati, the director of the Bennington College's Center for the Advancement of Public Action, is spearheading the project for Bennington.

"It is inspiring and deeply gratifying to be working with such talented colleagues at Vassar, Sarah Lawrence, and Bard on such an important topic," said Sgorbati, "We are all dedicated to finding the best practices in educational opportunities for vast numbers of people who have been forced out of their homes around the globe. We also are working on what our own college students need to know to be able to engage with such a complex and demanding challenge in our world today."

The grant comes from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which, according to its website, "endeavors to strengthen, promote, and, where necessary, defend the contributions of the humanities and the arts to human flourishing and to the well-being of diverse and democratic societies. To this end, it supports exemplary institutions of higher education and culture as they renew and provide access to an invaluable heritage of ambitious, path-breaking work."

In the grant application, the consortium stated, "The current refugee crisis demands new models that go beyond humanitarian relief to address global inequality in an educational context. The Consortium is committed to developing new, horizontal and more egalitarian models of global and transnational educational solidarity to address the refugee crisis and to educate our students to be engaged citizens in an increasingly complex and interconnected world."

Sgorbati said that the classwork will be made up of a series of courses, and that about five professors have already stepped forward to submit course ideas. She said some of the potential topics discussed have included environmental pressures on migration, human rights, cultural and political narratives, and the role language and translation plays in the movement of groups of people. Members of the consortium will meet at Bard College on April 8 to start the conversation about the specifics of the curriculum, and to share ideas and courses.

Sgorbati said the grant is intended to cover the costs of the first year of the coursework, which will begin this fall, but that the college plans for it to continue into future years. "We want this to be sustainable," she said, adding that many students have already expressed interest in participating.

"There are 60 million people in the world who are stateless," said Sgorbati, "It's becoming a larger and larger problem, and it's something the world will have to confront."

Reach staff writer Derek Carson at 802-447-7567, ext. 122 or @DerekCarsonBB

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