On 19 June, the University of Reading announced it was launching a scheme to offer up to 14 sponsorships for refugees in the Reading area. Some people weren’t happy with the university’s plans, so the social media team issued this response:
We've had feedback over the last week that some people are unhappy with our plan to offer up to 14 scholarships to refugees living in the local area. To these people, we would like to say: Tough. Jog on. https://t.co/ioDLPp5crw
— Uni of Reading (@UniofReading) July 2, 2018
The sponsorship scheme has been developed in partnership with Reading Refugee Support Group (RRSG) and Reading University Students’ Union. Gaby Couchman, deputy manager at RRSG, praised the initiative:
We work with a number of refugees in Reading who have a strong desire to engage with higher education in the UK. These are often young and highly educated people who have had their studies interrupted due to conflict and persecution in their home country. The launch of the Reading Scholarship Scheme is a powerful tool to enable refugees to help rebuild their lives in the UK.
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The scheme is also supported by Prof Robert Van de Noort, who stated:
We welcome to Reading those fleeing violence and persecution in their own countries and we value the contribution those seeking sanctuary can make to the University and the town in general.
The launch of these scholarships is another practical step the University has taken to welcome and integrate all people into our communities, our activities and our culture.
Winning the internet
The scheme may have been criticised, but the university’s response won the internet. Many people tweeted their support, including former students:
As an alumnus who donates to the University every month, and has done for years, I believe this is my money you are spending on scholarships.
I support it 100% and will increase my giving forthwith.
Anyone who doesn’t like it. Tough. Jog on.
— Is anybody there? (@gudnameztaken) July 2, 2018
@UniofReading proud alumna here! Who do we need to talk to to get “Tough. Jog on” on a t-shirt with the university logo on? I’d like 3 please.
— Maria Christodoulou (@melasnous) July 3, 2018
And generally, there was a lot of love for the university:
I'm in love with you right now, Reading 😍
— Tom Hopkins (@TMPHopkins1) July 2, 2018
Although when asked about the Middle East conflict generally, the social media team did admit that was above their pay grade:
Sorry, a solution to the Middle East conflict is slightly above the social media pay grade. We can talk about live streaming or analytics if you want?
— Uni of Reading (@UniofReading) July 2, 2018
But as one Twitter user pointed out, the scheme has the potential to make a positive difference:
Maybe so, but by proactively bringing refugees into campus you actually may well be edging a step closer towards peace in the Middle East. Tomorrow’s leaders might well be amongst them 👍
— Tracy Playle (@tracyplayle) July 2, 2018
The bigger picture
This scheme is a great example of practical solidarity. And the Twitter response from Reading University is spot on.
It’s exactly the sort of scheme that everyone everywhere should be learning from. Instead of creating a “hostile environment” for refugees and asylum seekers, we should be nurturing and supporting people. That means offering opportunities for people to use their skills – not demonising them and fomenting hatred.
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