MCS students call representatives to encourage the resettlement of Syrian refugees in New York

"The activism topic for the Fifth Floor this year is tackling Islamophobia and supporting Syrian refugees’ resettlement in America. To help, I decided to call the office of the New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo. My call was very interesting. I dialed the number and called Cuomo’s office and a woman picked up the phone. She asked me why I was calling, and I told her that I was calling to encourage the resettlement of Syrian refugees in New York. She asked me to hold on for a second. She then asked me, “Okay, you’re opposing the resettlement of refugees?” I corrected her and told her that I was supporting the resettling of refugees in New York and hung up the phone. After the call, it occurred to me why the woman had asked if I opposed resettlement of refugees. It was because she had received so many other calls that opposed Syrian refugee resettlement. At this point it became clear to me how large of a crowd we were fighting against, and how important our activism would be." - Alec

MCS students engage with the refugee intake process

"As of right now 12.8 million Syrians are in need of refuge, and half of current governors have said no to opening their doors to Syrians. So we (the fifth floor) decided to see what the actual process for applying for Asylum is like, and we discovered it isn’t an easy process at all. There’s a lot of questions and physical tests, that really don’t make you feel at ease. It’s a quite hectic and degrading cycle to go through.  They don’t care about who you are or your struggles; they just want to see if you're useful. I really felt like an object being tossed and played around with, and I felt that way being an American citizen myself, so I can only imagine that for someone who is foreign, who might not speak English, and is quite vulnerable, the process is far more traumatizing." - Amina

"One of the activities really stood out to me - it was about the process of applying for refugee status. We went through most of the steps of applying and it helped me visualize and understand what the process was actually like. It made me understand that this process is unfair, inhumane and degrading to the people going through it because they have to answer all of these questions they don’t know and they have to listen to everything someone says, because if they don’t they can easily be sent back. I think if we made this process simpler and more human it would create less anxiety and nerves for these poor refugees who have no safe place to go." - Pearl

"During the activity about what its like to apply for asylum (refugee status), I learned what it was like and how it felt. Of course, this could never compare to the real thing, but it gave as a sense of how hard it is to finally feel safe." - Julia

"Everyone in the class took part in an activity that was meant to resemble the process of applying for asylum as a Syrian refugee. We played out a very long process in a short amount of time. The difficulties in the process of applying to asylum isn’t given as much attention as whether or not countries decide to take in refugees. I was not aware of how long it took and how unreasonable some of the questions were. With such an extensive background check, refusal to take in refugees comes down to a stereotypical and Islamophobic mindset; two words that present a more accurate description of political leaders who do not want Syrian refugees in their country.  During the activity the overwhelming emotion I had was confusion. Many of the question were hard to understand.  After the activity was finished I realized how dehumanizing and degrading the process felt. There was no consideration for people’s stories or what they had been through. The questioners (teachers) were more concerned with what we could do to them rather than what could happen to us if we did not make it into asylum. This activity highlighted the importance of a story. A vital part of activism is sharing people’s stories to the world. Humanizing Syrian refugees should be an active part of our activism advocating for the resettlement of more refugees." - Ajani

In order to counter Islamophobia, we had to start by learning about Islam

"We have learned much about the past, how Islam came to be, and the many ways it shaped where we are now. I find this part particularly interesting because of the fact that most argue that Syrian refugees will not fit in, will not be accustomed to western culture, and do not belong here. But in reality, a lot of our culture is derived from Islam and those who were part of it. We have also learned much about the war in Syria, for example who’s fighting for what and why. It gave me a sense of what Syrian refugees were trying to escape, and why it was so important." - Julia

"One Friday we were all split up into 3 groups where we either learned about Muslim scientists, frame drumming and Arabic rhythms or art with geometry. I was put in the group where we learned about frame drumming and Arabic rhythms. Nassim showed us many rhythms on these drums which helped us get a taste of the cultures connection to drumming. I learned that many parties would involve a point where the band would hand out drums and everyone would start a rhythm. This would go on for hours and everyone had a good time. I think the point of this lesson was to show us that drums played in big role in this community and religion." - Jenna

"Ever since we started our Activism Campaign we have learned about: Organizations that do work with Syrian refugees, the truth about the Syrian civil war and the refugee crisis, Islam and what the Qur'an says, and the SAFE Act and what we can do to stop discrimination against Muslims. " - Marcelo

"This year for activism we are focusing on the Syrian refugee crisis and Islamophobia.  So far we have looked deeper into Islam's principles to become more aware about the foundation of the religion. We have seen Islamic art, talked about Mohamed and the pillars of Islam, and looked at the origins of Islamic regimes.  Islamophobia is a huge factor in why many Americans do not like the idea of taking in Syrian refugees to the United States.  Many Americans minds are clouded by fear and lies that all Muslims are terrorists.  This is a deplorable accusation that we are taking a stand against." - Osiris

"I have learned a tremendous amount about our activism topic this year. I have done everything from calling my elected representatives to persuade them to fight to take in more Syrian Refugees in the United States to learning about the Qur’an, Islamic art, and the prophet Mohammed. I have learned an incredible amount about the Syrian civil war and why refugees are leaving Syria in the first place. I have learned the difference between a refugee and an immigrant, and why it is so important to help refugees around the world. My triplet did a lesson on geometry and art in Islam, and I looked at some amazing drawings and tile patterns. In our recent trip to the Islamic art section of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, we learned about the global influence and history of Islam and how impactful their way of life has been in shaping the world as a means of countering Islamophobia. We have signed petitions of many influential human rights organizations and made phone calls to our members of Congress, Governor and the White House. We went through the ordeal of applying for refugee status, and how demoralizing a process that is. We have learned all of this in less than a month; I cannot wait to see how we will continue our project and I look forward to continue to learn and grow as an activist." - Cal