COGS Refugee Crisis Panel

Refugee Crisis Panel Flyer

On November 17, 2015 the Council of Graduate Students (COGS) – hosted a panel discussion for the university and community on the global refugee crisis. The interdisciplinary panel included three members of the Political Science Department, Professors John Crosby, Adam Irish and Doris Schartmueller, as well as Sociology Professor Tony Waters and Professor Hanna Burdette from International Languages, Literatures and Cultures. The event was conceived and organized through a collaboration between COGS officers – three of five of which are Political Science Graduate students, Georgia Anderson-Nilsson, Jaydeep Bhatia and Lucas Alward, and International Relations Professor Adam Irish. Over 250 university and community members attended the standing room only event – something that speaks to both the salience of the topic selected, as well as the organization of the COGS team and their faculty collaborators. 

Refugee Crisis Panel Photo

One goal of COGS in organizing the event was “to provide a substantive and informed discussion around the refugee crisis, in contrast to the sensationalized treatment of complex issues found in the media coverage of the crisis.” In this way, the panel was very successful. The discussion began by defining “refugee.” Professor Irish provided the legal definition, while Professor Waters provided insight into how refugees define themselves, based on his experience working in refugee camps in Eastern Africa. Professor Schartmueller provided a thorough presentation on the implications for recent elections in Europe, paying special attention to the rise of far right political parties.  Professor Irish then discussed the legal obligations of the European Union to asylum seekers. Professors Burdette and Crosby explained the political and security conditions that serve as catalysts for mass migration, with Professor Crosby providing specific detail around the conflicts in Syria and Iraq. In addition to examining the causes of the crisis, the panel also nicely treated the consequences of the current mass migrations. 

Refugee Crisis Panel Photo

Interim Dean of Graduate Studies Sharon Barrios’ comments after the panel nicely summarize the success of the event. “Not only was this one of the largest audiences I have seen at a scholarly presentation in a long while, but it was also a diverse student audience and a very engaged one as well.  Over the course of the evening, very few students left the event even when the question session started (that usually triggers a mass exodus). And many stayed after to talk one-on-one with the panelists and the student organizers. In fact, that is the other thing the COGS officers did so well: they chose the right panelists. You would have been proud of our department colleagues, Professors Adam Irish, Doris Schartmueller, and John Crosby. They were well-prepared, informative, thoughtful, provocative, encouraging, and funny.  They were also forthright and truthful, but handled difficult questions and issues with sensitivity. This was remarked upon by several students after the event including one who told me that she was a Syrian and had approached the event with some trepidation, but was reassured by the professional, informed, and considerate approach of the moderator (Jay) and the panelists. We know that discussing these types of provocative issues can be difficult in a public forum, but our colleagues did so wisely and graciously.” 

Refugee Crisis Panel

Planning and presenting the panel has had several impacts beyond the most direct effect of providing valuable information for the student and community audience members. COGS officers note that the graduate experience can often be isolating; graduate students focused on studying, writing papers, taking comprehensive exams or writing theses can miss out on interactions with the broader university and Chico community. As COGS was reinitiated and discussion about the mission of COGS ensued, activities that connected graduate students to the broader community were prioritized. The organization of the panel provided additional opportunities for building connections, as a collaboration quickly developed between COGS officers, and Professor Adam Irish in planning the event. The COGS members within political science – Georgia, Jay and Luke, are currently drafting a manuscript, with Professor Irish, describing their experience and lessons learned in organizing the Refugee Crisis Panel, to be submitted to Political Science Educator

This event also clearly impacted panel participants. Professor Crosby noted, “as academics, our perspectives can become stultified, so it makes us think about our positions more clearly … if you bring in something current, it forces us to reassess what we’re saying, especially in front of a large group.  We can’t just be insular… our understanding of the issue becomes broader, and that improves us as academics.” Professor Adam Irish, new this year to the department, commented, “events like this are wonderfully multi-layered.  For new and veteran faculty, it offered exposure as well as a venue to meet Chico State students and other faculty outside our departments. The panel discussion also provided a valuable service to the community of Chico by sharing our academic expertise on an important and timely issue.  And on a more personal level, this event allowed me to mentor our department’s graduate students – who I won’t teach formally until next year – in writing up an article based on their service efforts.  This professionalizing endeavor requires them to work through how best to share the knowledge they’ve gained with others - a key skill for any aspiring academic!”

COGS is currently in the process of organizing their spring event, which will be covered in the next newsletter.

To view Professor Irish’s interview with local media prior to the event, see

Political Statements is the official newsletter of the Political Science Department at California State University, Chico.

With around 1,000 total majors, Political Science is one of the largest departments at Chico State. Students choose courses from a rich curriculum, providing close student-faculty contact in each of the following majors of study: general political science, legal studies, criminal justice, international relations, and public administration. The department also offers a Master of Public Administration and a Master of Arts in Political Science.

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