Oxford marks first anniversary as University of Sanctuary (2024)

Oxford marks first anniversary as University of Sanctuary (1)

In May 2023, Oxford was the first intercollegiate university to be awarded University of Sanctuary status. As we celebrate our first anniversary recognised as a university committed to being a place of welcome for people who have been forcibly displaced around the world, Natasha Treunen, Oxford's Sanctuary Community Programme Coordinator at the Refugee Studies Centre, discusses her role and why it is important to her.

When did you start your role as Oxford’s Sanctuary Community Programme Coordinator?

I started in September 2023. Before this, I was reading for my master’s in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies (RFMS) at the Refugee Studies Centre as a Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Trust (WHT) scholar.

What attracted you to the role?

My experiences as an international student with a displacement background and my passion for ensuring equitable educational access as a means to achieving social justice for those often marginalised or excluded attracted me to the role.

I couldn’t have thought of a better role to take on following my academic journey at Oxford, where I belonged to several communities including the Oxford's Sanctuary Community (OSC) which was at its foundational stages. In the role, I get to co-design and deliver a cohort programme that enriches the OSC student experience while drawing from my own and my peers’ intersectional experiences during our academic journies at Oxford.

How would you describe Oxford’s Sanctuary Community?

It is a cohort support programme under the Refugee Academic Futures (RAF) scheme (part of the broader Academic Futures programme) which was initiated during the 2022–2023 academic year. It offers dedicated scholarships and tailored support for students from displacement backgrounds; it also provides a sense of community and support.

The RAF scheme supports students affected by the Ukraine crisis and those affected by crises from other parts of the world leading to forced displacement. The cohort is mainly made up of student recipients of the RAF scholarships. It is also open to all postgraduate students and Council for At-Risk Academics (CARA) research fellows within the collegiate University who self-identify as having a displacement background.

Can you tell us more about your specific responsibilities?

My role has three main components: cohort-focused support, bridging the support gaps that arise from a decentralised collegiate university and support in maintaining Oxford’s University of Sanctuary status.

Cohort-focused support: I am the dedicated point of contact for the two RAF scholarship schemes in collaboration with the University’s Student Fees and Funding team. I also serve as the contact person for all OSC scholars throughout their academic year, with responsibility for managing communications with the cohort (via regular newsletters and updates), responding to queries, and scheduling regular meetings with individuals for psychosocial, academic and onward planning support. Additionally, I organise a series of termly socials and academic enrichment programming for the cohort, to support their integration with the collegiate University and wider Oxford community.

Bridging support gaps: this involves mapping the relevant support services for scholars with displacement backgrounds across the University while raising awareness of the particular needs of these scholars. I work closely with colleges, departments and University offices focused on student support and resources.

Support in maintaining Oxford’s University of Sanctuary Status: I am part of the University of Sanctuary Steering Committee, a sub-committee of the Education Committee. I also work closely with local initiatives to support refugees and vulnerable migrants, to ensure community engagement beyond the University.

What does being awarded with University of Sanctuary status mean for Oxford?

Receiving the University of Sanctuary status award showcases our public commitment to the City of Sanctuary’s vision and affirms our longstanding history of welcoming scholars and academics seeking sanctuary.

As the first collegiate university to receive this status, we have paved the way for others to consider making this pledge and committing to creating and promoting a culture of welcome as an inclusive and diverse university.

What’s next for OSC?

Along with celebrating the recognition, which involved demonstrating active engagement and commitment to the City of Sanctuary’s vision across our decentralised University, we are aware that there is still more to do.

We are working to ensure that sanctuary is a reality across the whole collegiate University, rather than having pockets where students and staff with displacement backgrounds feel welcomed and included.

To learn more about what Oxford has achieved in its first year as a University of Sanctuary and how to be involved please read the summary from our Sanctuary Fair held on 24 April.

The second part of the Sanctuary Fair will take place on 13 June at the Oxford Town Hall from 1.30 to 6.30pm. The event will bring together the University of Oxford, Oxford Brookes University, City Council, local organisations, the private sector and wider Oxford community members to celebrate and share best practice around ensuring sanctuary. All are welcome to attend!

Register to attend the 13 June Sanctuary Fair

Oxford marks first anniversary as University of Sanctuary (2024)
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