Skip to Content

Diya Abdo

Refugee Advocate

Building a movement of colleges and universities that are welcoming, hosting, and supporting refugee families.

Headshot of Diya Abdo

Diya Abdo is an English professor interested in the concept of home. Born to a Palestinian family who, after living in refugee camps, integrated into their host country of Jordan, Abdo’s trajectory took her to the United States as an international graduate student. After returning to Jordan and meeting resistance to her work on Arab women writers and the unique shades of feminism in their work, she accepted a position at Guilford College. She made a new home in Greensboro, North Carolina. 

In 2015, Abdo heard Pope Francis’s call for European parishes to host refugees. It occurred to her: Why don’t colleges do the same? Like parishes, universities are small cities with housing, food, and support services that could help refugees thrive. She founded Every Campus A Refuge, or ECAR, a nonprofit that encourages universities to support refugee families as they acclimate to life in the U.S. Her first book, American Refuge: True Stories of the Refugee Experience, tells several of these families’ stories.

Over the past 10 years, more than 20 campuses — from Georgia to Oklahoma to California — have started their own ECAR chapters, hosting over 500 refugees. Abdo sees herself as building a movement. “We can reimagine and use our campuses differently,” she says, “to deepen inclusion for all community members.”

As an Emerson Fellow, Abdo will build a unique repository of refugee-centered stories:  “Ṣawt: The Resettlement Campus Oral History Project.” With former refugees as the lead interviewers and curators, Ṣawt—“voice” in Arabic—will collect and amplify refugee experiences, fostering deeper tolerance and understanding. At the same time, the project will promote the ECAR model, inspiring colleges and universities in the U.S. to become ecosystems of welcome and belonging in their communities.

More about The Emerson Collective Fellowship.

Related content: