Updated: Oct 11, 2019
I visited the University of Akron on September 26th. My good friend, Professor John Huss made the arrangements. I sat in on 3 of his ethics classes to warm up for the main event, which was attended by 100 or so people, including some members of the local refugee population. It all went very well and Akron is certainly a place we’ll want to show the film when it’s done.
In the Ethics classes, we considered the moral question of refugee resettlement: Should we or shouldn’t we? Via all the major moral theories they had covered to date, Utilitarianism (do the greatest good for the greatest number of people), Divine Command Theory (do what God says), Natural Law Theory (individuals have basic rights that must be respected), and Ethical Egoism (do what’s best for yourself), refugee resettlement calculates as the right thing to do. Students quoted passages from religious texts to support welcoming refugees, calculated overall happiness, and even noted that one’s self interest would be well served by extending a hand.
Armed with this theoretical basis, addressing the larger audience that evening was a piece of cake! Akron has a good-sized refugee population and people in attendance were aware of the some of the subtler benefits of refugee resettlement. Fewer area homes are empty now. New restaurants and stores have opened up. And the obvious moral benefit of having done the right thing by welcoming someone who has suffered was clear to all. We broke into discussion groups after I answered questions about the clips from the film that had been screened. It was especially satisfying to me to watch three nervous freshmen interact with a group of Burmese and Laotian refugees. Their open-mindedness and solid listening were exemplary. One of them shared that she’d learned a lot from the exchange. In my experience, 99% of people come away from interactions with refugees with great respect for what they’ve been through and how they conduct themselves here. So that’s one clear way to generate respect for resettlement: create opportunities for people to interact with refugees.
Though I wasn’t aware of it going into the trip, this is exactly the kind of thing I want to do with the film when it’s finished. The larger project we’re trying to build, tentatively named America Refuge, would be an attempt to change the conversation around refugee resettlement in the United States. Despite the Fox TV noise, most people have a sense that refugees don’t pose a security threat and that they aren’t a big economic drain. But these sorts of events cement the idea that resettlement is a win-win proposition, and make it clear there are plenty of reasons to passionately support resettlement. And meeting actual refugees? Well that’s the truly priceless part. I’d really like to organize screenings in areas like Akron, where there is a sizable refugee population, and help audiences see firsthand what they’re gaining in their new citizens. I don’t know about you, but the US does a better job of representing me when it shows up internationally as a welcoming country. More of that please.