Saturday night's gala featured artwork from student artists. This piece, titled "Stigma" depicts a collection of photographed faces viewed through cut-out black canvas.

Photo Courtesy of Chryssanthi Barris '20

Saturday night's gala featured artwork from student artists. This piece, titled "Stigma" depicts a collection of photographed faces viewed through cut-out black canvas.

April 30, 2017

Gala at Johnson Museum Raises Awareness for Refugee Crisis

Print More

Over 300 attendees from Cornell and the Ithaca community put on their finest and headed to the Johnson Museum on Saturday for an evening of performances, student art and speeches made to raise awareness for the plight of refugees worldwide at the Cornell Welcomes Refugees Gala.

“I am so glad to see that there are so many of you [here], who could be anywhere tonight, who could be at Delta Chi — is that still a thing?” said Mayor Svante Myrick ‘09, praising the audience that had come out to support the cause.

The event, organized by Cornell Welcomes Refugees, was modeled after a similar gala that CWR President Salma Shitia ’18 hosted last year with the Arab Student Association. Last year, Shitia was able to raise over $4,000 to help with the resettlement of refugees in Ithaca.

CWR arranged a lineup of speakers for the night, two of which were Myrick and Walaa Maharem-Horan, a founding member of Ithaca Welcomes Refugees.

Mayor Svante Myrick '09 spoke at Saturday's gala.

Photo Courtesy of Ming Khan

Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 spoke at Saturday’s gala.

Myrick expressed optimism for the activist efforts he has seen in Ithaca and across the nation against President Donald Trump’s executive orders on immigration and refugees.

“I am far more hopeful than I was 100 days ago, when this man, who rode a wave of hatred and xenophobia to the White House, took the reins of power,” he said. “A combination of his own incompetence and your energy and action meant that he’s been the least productive president in modern American history.”

He also urged attendees to continue making their voices heard in their communities.

“[W]e can keep that up. We have to. Because there are people who are … literally weeks from coming to Ithaca, out of harm’s way,” Myrick said.

But the journey to Ithaca is a difficult one, as Maharem-Horan attested.

Maharem-Horan told many stories of the immigrant families she has helped resettle, from a farmer who was most thankful for America’s tap water to an Afghani family that was moved by the home-cooked, volunteer-prepared Afghani meals that they were met with upon their arrival.

“America has the most secure vet[ting] system in the world,” Maharem-Horan said. “This is a two-to-three-year process. These people are fingerprinted three to four times. It’s not like somebody goes, ‘you know where you should go? America.’”

She also detailed Ithaca’s history as a sanctuary for refugees, and emphasized that attendees should think of the refugee crisis as an ongoing issue.

“Refugees aren’t just Syrian and Iraqi and Afghani — you’re talking people from the Congo and [Myanmar]. [Myanmar] has had refugees since the 1970s. This is not just a hot-button issue, this is not something that just happened to pop up. Ithaca Welcomes Refugees didn’t exist because of Trump; we’ve been around since December of 2015,” she said.

The issue of taking refugees, Maharem-Horan said, should not be seen as a political debate, but rather as one of humanity.

“Right now there’s over 60 million refugees worldwide. These are people that have been displaced from their homes, and I just want people to take a step back and put [them] in [the refugees’] shoes,” she said.

The gala additionally featured work by student artists, a decision that Shitia explained was to prompt heightened awareness.

“After the executive order and immigration ban … it was really important not to just raise funds, but to raise awareness,” she said. “We contacted many artists to display their work on refugees here.”

The gala featured artwork from students. This piece, by Madison Chalfant, is a piece from the 'Reimagining Borders' display.

Photo Courtesy of Madison Chalfant

The gala featured artwork from students. This piece, by Madison Chalfant, is a piece from the ‘Reimagining Borders’ display.

Two of these artists, Calga Sokullu ’20 and Chryssanthi Barris ’20, cited their own experiences as inspiration behind their collaboration, “Stigma” — a collection of photographed faces viewed through a black canvas with cutouts.

“Through the placement of the cut-outs, we wanted to highlight the similarities and differences between the facial features of our subjects.” Barris said. “Our piece explores the idea that we may be different people from different places, different backgrounds, different races, different — everything, but at our core we are all still human.”

“At the end of the shoot, when we looked at all 15 [shots,] they’re all really the same,” Sokullu added. “For us, the black canvas was a barrier between the viewer and the subject. The canvas can hide parts of the face. But still, we know what is behind it, we know that it is a person and we accept them as they are even with the presence of that barrier.”

Originally from Istanbul, Sokullu said that her experiences have shown her just how powerful the effects of prejudice can be on a society.

“I come from a place that has been in political crisis since I’ve been aware of the … situation of the world. I don’t think we’ve seen peace that was actual peace; there was always some underlying commotion,” she said. “Where we are now in the U.S. — I think we all see the political situation, where it’s so tense between people. I think we just need to take a step back and see that we are all the same.”

Barris drew upon her experiences as an immigrant from Greece, stressing that she hopes people can hope to embrace diversity.

“When I moved back [to the U.S.] from Greece, I was made fun of for my heritage,” Barris said. “For me, this [piece] is a way to remind people to be kind, to love one another, and celebrate each other’s differences.”

The gala was able to raise over $3,000 for refugees, but Shitia hopes that attendees of the gala will also leave with a better understanding of the potential consequences of American legislation on these refugees.

“[G]arnering support for the movement to accept refugees within our borders is the most important thing right now, especially with the current geopolitical climate,” Shitia said.

  • Garfield Hates Mondays

    60 million refugees and the Left wants to bring them all to the United States.

    Work harder white man: millions on welfare are counting on you!

  • Garfield Hates Mondays

    @ Chryssanthi Barris: People have every right to make fun of your “heritage”

    Ancient Greece (2500 years ago): Gave birth to all of Western thought, astronomy, democracy, rational thought, literally everything that defines the West. People looked like Hercules and Demeter.

    Modern Greece: People rioting over sacks of oranges and all people under age 40 try to flee the country. People look like Watto, the Toydarian junk dealer from Star Wars

    What happened? Well, there aren’t any real Greeks anymore – they were f*cked out of existence thousands of years ago by Persians, North Africans, and various other swarthy peoples.

    Genetics: it’s real people. Learn it, love it.

    • Garfield Hates Mondays and He Hates You Too

      Ancient Greek culture: rational thought, astronomy, steam engine, democracy, sculpture, heroic tales, all of Western thought

      Modern Greek culture: muh Greek yogurt

      TFW when you realize modern day Greeks bear no resemblance to Ancient Greeks

      Visiting Greece is like attending a necropsy on Western civilization

    • Joanna

      Who the fuck are you and what do you know about heritage? Where are you coming from and how much is your heritage worthy to attack viciously other people?
      Do you want to spit your vitriol to Greeks? Attack me of you can, another older Greek who does not give shit about worms like you.

      • Nermal is the World’s Cutest Kitten

        Modern Greeks are Turks, Berbers, and Moors who happen to use the Greek alphabet.

        Modern Greeks are not the same people as Herodotus, Homer, Erotosthenes, or Euclid. That is why they invented or discovered everything of importance while modern Greeks have …. yogurt?

    • Ioanna Skountzou

      Who appointed you as the expert on Eastern, Western history, civilization, anthropology and genealogy to spit out all these alt-right attacks and vitriol to young people? Where are you coming from and how much is your heritage worthy to assume this stance?

      • Dilbert the Engineer

        Shouldn’t you be calculating the circumference of the Earth or charting the motion of the planets (planetos – Greek for “Wanderer”)? Oh wait, you can’t…

    • D J T

      Look at all them triggered liberals in denial! Did what this guy said hit a nerve? Let that sweet cognitive dissonance settle in.

    • DJT

      Greece is no longer Greece, and you know it damn well!

    • A passerby

      It really is a pity that your apparent appreciation of Ancient Greece does not extend to your behavior. You mention rational thought, the legacy of Socrates and Plato, without including a modicum of logic, evidence, or rational argumentation in your racist, deeply hateful claims, anything that would stand up to even the barest methodical scrutiny. You mention astronomy and the steam engine while basing your crude misconceptions of reality on a strain of pseudo-science that the world uniformly rejected last century – if not earlier.

      You overlook the importance of art, the need to appreciate it and to venerate its creators – instead you harass the artist for their heritage and their beliefs. You mock their works while likely producing nothing worthwhile of your own. You prefer crudeness and hatred over beauty and sentiment.

      You subtract from humanity, and so you loathe those who add. In your ignorance, you shame the species.

      • Nermal is the World’s Cutest Kitten

        Spartans were blonde with blue eyes. Same with other Hellenic peoples. Now, Greeks have black hair, black eyes, and are hirsute – – – just like Turks. Coincidence? Do modern Greeks look anything like those Greeks depicted in sculpture? Nope

    • Mike

      You are a moron!

    • Mike

      Your comments just made the point of this beautiful piece and this gala on the refugee crisis…you are clearly a racist!

      • John Arbuckle

        racism = bad
        abortion = good

        Leftist logic on display

  • Garfield Hates Mondays and He Hates You Too

    Istanbul? I think you mean Constantinople

  • Garfield Hates Mondays and He Hates You Too

    Until this country can help people caught in the gang and gun violence in Chiraq, we don’t have money to lavish on foreigners. Let’s look after our own first ok?

  • On her way to work one morning
    Down the path along side the lake
    A tender hearted woman saw a poor half frozen snake
    His pretty colored skin had been all frosted with the dew
    “Oh well,” she cried, “I’ll take you in and I’ll take care of you”

    She wrapped him up all cozy in a curvature of silk
    And then laid him by the fireside with some honey and some milk
    Now she hurried home from work that night as soon as she arrived
    She found that pretty snake she’d taking in had been revived

    Now she clutched him to her bosom, “You’re so beautiful,” she cried
    “But if I hadn’t brought you in by now you might have died”
    Now she stroked his pretty skin and then she kissed and held him tight
    But instead of saying thanks, that snake gave her a vicious bite

    “I saved you,” cried that woman
    “And you’ve bit me even, why?
    You know your bite is poisonous and now I’m going to die”

    “Oh shut up, silly woman,” said the reptile with a grin
    “You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in!

  • Mike

    Disgusting Ivy League kids hiding behind a keyboard making big
    Comments Of
    Hatred ….but would
    Never make those comments in person…gomtrave
    The world and see what it’s like … would
    Never make those hateful comments in Greece…I guarantee it.
    Mike, chrysanthi’s uncle.

  • MILO

    Liberals think calling us racist will scare us into submission? Wrong!