College solidarity in occasions of struggle

On February 24, Russia invaded Ukraine. Members of the Université de Montréal community then launched calls for solidarity to help the population displaced by the war. The Vice Rectorate for Community and International Partnerships team coordinated the various responses to make them a reality. Since the arrival of Rector Daniel Jutras, freedom of expression in the university context has been a key topic of conversation at UdeM, first on campus and then across the province. Recent events have given these reflections an international dimension.

Freedom of expression at the heart of UdeM’s commitment

In June 2021, the Université de Montréal adopted a policy statement on freedom of expression in the university context. A few months later, she joined Scholars at Risk, an international network of more than 500 higher education institutions tasked with protecting threatened scientists in their home countries and promoting freedom of expression. By joining this network, the UdeM benefits from international support and positions itself as a university that supports people whose freedom in teaching and research is at risk.

“How to act when conflicts or humanitarian crises arise? asks Valérie Amiraux, Vice Rector for Community and International Partnerships at the UdeM. We wanted our facility to have an institutionalized capacity to act and respond, and to be able to guide members of our community who wish to host a researcher in the context of a humanitarian crisis.”

establishment of a relief fund

The team of Vice-Rector for Alumni Relations and Philanthropy, Michael Pecho, was quick to launch the Assistance Fund for University Communities in Humanitarian Crisis. The aim is to support students, researchers and teachers who have to flee their country due to conflicts or natural disasters.

A few days after its launch, this fund made it possible to welcome nine Ukrainian undergraduate students for an exchange at UdeM. “This is an excellent initiative,” says Valérie Amiraux. And if we want to continue to take other students, it is necessary that the fund is regularly fed. Today he is helping young Ukrainian women, but for the future we need to be able to prepare to support other people whose life context is disrupted in an emergency.

Welcoming Ukrainian graduate students

In March, UdeM joined the Science for Ukraine network, a public map listing jobs or research grants available to people fleeing the conflict.

Concurrently, faculty members offered grants funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council to host postdocs and research visitors. So far, four students have benefited from it. A Mitacs Globalink intern from Ukraine was also able to count on the help of several employees at her research institute to make her arrival at the university ahead of schedule.

collaborative working

Martin Carrier, lecturer and educational advisor at the UdeM Institute of Political Science, and Magdalena Dembinska, professor at the same institute, were key people in setting up the reception for these nine Ukrainian students. The entire political science department mobilized to accompany her from Kharkiv to Montreal. Nine grants of US$1,500 each were awarded by the Center Jean Monnet.

“It is a gigantic task to take in students displaced for political reasons,” says Valérie Amiraux. There is a whole administrative framework, first back and forth with immigration, then working very closely with Student Life Services and psychological and language support.

The International Affairs Department, the Europe Office, the International Students Office, Student Life Services, the many faculties have worked together in an “extraordinary way”, emphasizes Marie-Eve Ouellet, Community Strategies Advisor in the Vice Rectorate for Partnerships Community and International Programs at UdeM.

“The Dean of the School of Optometry responded within minutes of sending our email that University Vision Clinic could offer eye care if needed,” she says.

“The colleagues from Student Life Services spared no effort on site to ensure the integration of female students,” she adds. The Health and Psychological Counseling Center also welcomed them. There was a very good response from all UdeM members. The phrase that came up most often was “That’s the least we can do!”. All have been responsive and very generous with their time or resources.”

French courses offered at the FEP language school

As soon as the nine students arrived, they were tutored in French by the Faculty of Continuing Education (FEP).

After a placement test, they were divided into different groups according to their level. The vast majority of them did not speak French and were able to take a brand new course adapted to their reality this summer.

“We hired a teacher specifically for this training and created a schedule that respected everyone’s schedule,” says Sana Sabouni, coordinator of French courses at the FEP language school.

Several learning guides were also offered. “Everything happened very quickly: the program was ready less than three weeks after receiving the request!” said Sana Sabouni.

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