Reading, Writing, and Refuge: Exploring Universities' Global Civic Responsibilities
Alysha Banerji

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



Harvard University

Primary Discipline

My dissertation explores the normative commitments that motivate institutions of higher education to welcome and support globally displaced refugees. In 2020, only 5% of refugees were enrolled in tertiary education globally, compared to 40% of non-refugee students (UNHCR, 2023). I focus on a few extraordinary initiatives in the UK, the US, and Canada, each of embodies a distinct approach to supporting refugees, and vary in their conceptions of the purpose and civic responsibility of universities. Taken together, they provide a multidimensional view of how higher education, especially in the Global North, may respond to forcible displacement, illuminate nascent conceptions of university’s cosmopolitan civic responsibility, and illustrate ethical dilemmas at the intersection of a traditional commitment to knowledge production and emerging responsibilities as social actors in a globalised society. This research falls at the intersection of two fields in higher education literature: civic purposes of universities and the internationalization of higher education. Even as universities become increasingly international in their internal demographics and external reach, there is a dearth of literature exploring the intersection of these two pieces—i.e. social responsibilities of universities to a global society. Grounded in explorations of novel pathways through which higher education can respond to forced migration, I ask more broadly: How do refugee support initiatives shed light on the global civic responsibilities of universities; hypothesising that these cases demonstrate new possibilities for universities as global civic actors, while also illuminating the complexities inherent in this positioning.
About Alysha Banerji
Alysha Banerji is a Ph.D candidate in Education at Harvard University, and a Graduate Fellow in Ethics at the Edmond & Lily Safra Center for Ethics, Harvard University. In her dissertation, she explores university responses to forced migration and displacement, and the implications of these initiatives for situating universities as global civic actors. Previously, she has been an Ethics Pedagogy Fellow at the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, a McPherson Fellow at the Center for Ethics and Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a Dissertation Fellow at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University. From 2020-2022, she served on the Editorial Board of the Harvard Educational Review. Prior to her doctoral training, Alysha worked towards increasing educational access in a diverse range of contexts. She was an Assistant Education Specialist at UNESCO Santiago, Chile, supporting the implementation of the Education 2030 Agenda in the Latin America and Caribbean region. Between 2013-16, she managed the national expansion of the India School Leadership Institute, an organization that provided leadership training for principals of public and low-income private schools across India. She has also worked in college access in the US, managing SAT prep and college application support programs for low-income and first-generation youth across Massachusetts. Alysha holds a BA in Philosophy from Hamilton College, and an M.S.Ed in International Education Development from the University of Pennsylvania.

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