Fruitful First Year for Center on Forced Displacement
Seed grants, a conference, a workshop, and other programs, plus two $1 million gifts
By all measures, Boston University’s Center on Forced Displacement (CFD)—founded in July 2022 to foster interdisciplinary research and engagement on one of the most pressing challenges of our time—had a banner first year.
The CFD began providing seed grants to BU faculty researchers across multiple disciplines in arts, humanities, law, social work, and public health, hosted a first artist in residence, recorded podcasts, and held a workshop to prepare STEM students to address forced displacement challenges. This past spring, the center held the first of what will be an annual conference, with keynote speaker and renowned novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah, who won the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature. It continued its Border Studies Program at the US-Mexico border, and launched its first Interdisciplinary Summer School on Forced Displacement at the University of Belgrade.
Now, the CFD is the recipient of two new $1 million gifts. One is from Feyza A. Shipley and Richard C. Shipley (Questrom’68,’72, Hon.’22), a BU trustee emeritus; the other was given anonymously. The gifts will be used to fund experiential learning opportunities for students, as well as fieldwork and ethical research projects with communities on the ground to inform responses to forced migration issues.
“We take great pride in the interdisciplinarity of our work,” says Muhammad Zaman, CFD cofounder and director and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor of Biomedical Engineering and International Health. “Grants are often designated for a specific activity, but the center’s activities are often working at the intersection of different fields. We believe a chemistry student should be working with a history student should be working with someone who studied art and theater. You cannot separate health from the political aspect, the political aspect from the policy angle, or the historical aspects, and they all interweave. So, the flexibility that comes with these gifts is extraordinary, and allows us to really bridge and traverse these disciplinary boundaries.”
We take great pride in the interdisciplinarity of our work
Carrie Preston, CFD cofounder and associate director, says the effect of the gifts will ripple outward. “Because of these gifts, we were able to create a postdoc position, someone who will be working in Turkey, within the community,” says Preston, a College of Arts & Sciences professor of English and of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies. “Because of that posting, we were able to connect with students here at BU who had been living as refugees, or witnessing the refugee crises in their home countries, who reached out to us because they wanted to do something to help.”
Shipley says his wife, Feyza, who has a passion for supporting displaced people, was a driving force behind the gift. “As all of us know, the challenges of forced displacement are huge,” he says. “We have over 100 million people affected, and the number is increasing. It’s a huge issue. So, when Feyza and I first met with Dr. Zaman and Dr. Preston, we were most interested in whether they could scale their mission on a global basis, and whether they could produce results. We were not interested in just an academic exercise.
“We never had to ask those questions,” Shipley adds. “It became clear, as Dr. Zaman and Dr. Preston described the mission, that it was all about results and they were going to be able to leverage what they did on an international and a global scale.”