We rarely realize it, but the fight for freedom extends beyond physical or political. It can be a desperate struggle to attain intellectual, academic liberty from suppressive climates.
Such is the modus behind the Scholars-at-Risk program provided by the University of Toronto’s Massey College in conjunction with the School of Graduate Studies. Offered to valid candidates since 1999, Scholars-at-Risk bestows humanitarian and financial assistance to endangered collegiates in order to further their studies, their freedom of speech and our rights to access that information.
“(Scholars-at-Risk) aims to financially assist newly-arrived refugees to Canada who have had to flee their countries because of civil strife or wars,” notes Massey College/program Administrator Anna Luengo. “(It) helps them to continue graduate work they were forced to stop, continue post-doctoral research or provide subsidies to those able to work teaching, i.e.: A U of T course.”
Stemming from another successful, revered program dubbed Writers-in-Exile running in association with PEN Canada, an organization focusing on freedom of expression since the 1930s, Luengo notes the shift to Scholars-at-Risk was a natural development.
“We recognized there was a great need for academic assistance among new refugees. Once funding was received from the Donner Canadian Foundation by the School of Graduate Studies, we were able to proceed with the fellowships.”
To date, that obvious connection between writer and Scholar has yielded 12 candidates from countries including Iran, Ethiopia, Yemen, Iraq, Colombia, Zimbabwe and Azerbaijan successfully fulfilling a process of adjudication and, with legal expedition into the country, garnering two-year fellowships of $10,000 as a means of continuing otherwise-unavailable graduate studies.
However, despite support from U of T’s Faculty Of Arts And Science and an international Scholars-at-Risk network, the program—and its participants—are still subject to many growing pains.
“The program is still relatively new so financially, people sometimes continue to struggle after the fellowship is over because it does not guarantee a lucrative future,” Luengo reveals.
“The Scholars don’t only receive. They give a lot in terms of their experience and wisdom to our students who are curious and interested in the world at large.”