Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

Opening doors

Wheaton awards first scholarship for refugees

The college has awarded the Wheaton Refugee Scholarship to a high school senior whose family fled civil war to resettle in the United States.

The award culminated an international effort that began when President Dennis M. Hanno announced on January 31 that the college would extend a full, four-year scholarship to a refugee fleeing conflict.

“Wheaton is a global institution that is dedicated to improving the world by advancing knowledge and sharing it,” said Hanno in an announcement that was covered by scores of major news media, including CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Daily Mail (U.K.), and generated a flood of social media posts. Overall, online analytics estimated that the story was viewed more than 850 million times worldwide.

The new scholarship was inspired by the signing of an executive order that temporarily banned emigration from seven nations—Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The executive order was initially issued on January 27 and later revised, although it has yet to take force due to court challenges.

“We are establishing the Wheaton Refugee Scholarship as a way of adding our voice to the chorus of people across the country who are calling for the immigration ban to be lifted,” said Hanno, who encouraged other colleges and universities to join him in offering this opportunity. “This is a way for the higher education community to reach out beyond our campuses and let people in these countries and around the world know that, as Americans, we are interested in helping others.”

Wheaton already enrolls a highly diverse and international population. Its 1,650 current students represent more than 70 countries and 35 U.S. states and territories. At least one member of the college community would be affected by the as-yet-unenforced executive order, barring the student from returning home during breaks in the school year. In a message to the college community, President Hanno pledged Wheaton’s support to anyone affected by the situation.

At the time, Grant Gosselin, vice president and dean of admission and student aid, said he was confident that Wheaton and other schools would find qualified applicants from these countries. Further, he said, the scholarships that Wheaton and other U.S. schools can offer will change the lives not only of the students who receive the awards but also of many others in their communities.

“These students have faced hardships unlike anything we could imagine and will need significant assistance to make acquiring an education possible,” said Gosselin. “We believe it is our responsibility as contributors to global education to make this commitment.”

Wheaton had reopened its application deadline through March 1 for students interested in applying for the scholarship. The college received more than 1,000 applications for admission, ultimately selecting a student whose family had emigrated recently from one of the seven nations named in the executive order. The home country and the name of the student are being withheld to protect the individual’s privacy.