Author Bio

Lindsey Kingston is an Associate Professor of International Human Rights at Webster University in Saint Louis, Missouri. She serves as the Director of the Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies. Kingston edited Human Rights in Higher Education: Institutional, Classroom, and Community Approaches to Teaching Social Justice (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018) and authored the monograph Fully Human: Personhood, Citizenship, and Rights (Oxford University Press, 2019)

Esma Karakasis a 2020 graduate of Webster University, where she earned an undergraduate degree in International Human Rights with a minor in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Esma is originally from Turkey and came to the United States in 2015 to pursue her higher education. Esma plans to attend law school and focus on immigration law.


Armed conflict and political repression have created a refugee crisis in higher education, interrupting many students’ university educations or blocking young people from beginning their studies in the first place. This article outlines preliminary research findings from an ongoing project centered on improving displaced students’ access to American higher education. Motivation for this research stems from the values inherent to human rights education (HRE). Preliminary research data drawn from qualitative interviews with ten forcibly displaced students (or former students) living in Saint Louis, Missouri, highlight how refugees and asylum seekers face unique challenges in accessing higher education. In particular, this study offers seven initial findings to consider: (1) Displaced students often struggle to understand the complicated American higher education system, including navigating admissions and financial aid. (2) They primarily rely on their personal social networks to garner information about higher education, which leads to both positive and negative consequences. (3) Cultural differences sometimes challenge displaced students’ attempts to integrate into their new communities. (4) Family relationships and cultural dynamics at home can also impact their educational plans. (5) Faculty sometimes fail to understand the challenges facing displaced students, particularly in relation to language barriers. (6) Yet, faculty members and other support staff are often key for encouraging these students to continue their studies. (7) Administrators tend to confuse international students in general with displaced students, leading to various bureaucratic obstacles. While this preliminary data illustrates the need for further study, it also offers starting points for supporting displaced students on their college journeys. Financial aid opportunities for asylum seekers, training for faculty and university staff, and building awareness and solidarity on campus are all essential components for making higher education more welcoming and accessible for this vulnerable student population.