$200,000 Giving Tuesday Donation to Create New Scholarship, Leadership Awards for Refugee Scholars
Trent University professors emeriti Dr. Alena Heitlinger and Dr. David Morrison create new endowed awards for Trent students who’ve fled their home countries
When Alena Heitlinger was an 18-year-old high-school graduate from Czechoslovakia, she travelled on holiday to Britain in the summer of 1968 to improve her English. But life changed suddenly and dramatically after the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact invaded her home country. Her father wrote Alena a letter urging her to stay in Britain and begin her life there away from oppression and potential anti-Semitism.
“From the time I had finished reading the letter, I was a refugee,” says Dr. Heitlinger, now a retired professor of Sociology at Trent University (1975-2014).
Alone in a foreign country and speaking limited English, she relied on the World University Service (WUS). The agency was leading support for her postsecondary journey in Britain before eventually gaining employment in Canada at Trent University where she became an esteemed professor and author of eight books as well as numerous articles.
Now Professor Heitlinger and her husband Dr. David Morrison (also a retired Trent professor) have donated $200,000 to Trent University on Giving Tuesday to ensure other students who are refugees get similar support through World University Service Canada (WUSC).
The donation creates the Alena Heitlinger WUSC Scholarship, a $3,000 annual award to the refugee scholar who has the highest grade among currently registered WUSC students, as well as the Alena Heitlinger WUSC Leadership Award, a $3,000 annual award to a refugee student who demonstrates leadership at the University.
“Without scholarships and support from WUS, I could not have attended university and created a new life for myself,” says Prof. Heitlinger. “It is my hope that these awards make life a little easier for students in similar situations.”
WUSC is a network of individuals and more than 80 postsecondary institutions across Canada who believe that everyone is entitled to the knowledge and skills necessary to contribute to a more equitable world. At Trent, the WUSC local committee is made up of students, faculty, and community members who are involved in international cooperation initiatives.
Trent student Nhial Abraham fled South Sudan as a refugee in 2021 and says WUSC sponsored all expenses including travel, housing, and tuition.
“WUSC provided me the opportunity to have a quality education and a home far away from home given the situation in the refugee camp where I could not afford the tuition to the universities nearby,” says Nhial, a second-year Chemistry and Forensic Science student.
The new scholarship and leadership awards will be a source of great encouragement to students who are refugees, added Duom Maper, who also fled South Sudan and came to Trent as a refugee in 2019 before becoming the University’s WUSC co-chair.
“The awards will be so helpful to the upper years since after the sponsorship they can apply for OSAP and work at the same time,” Duom says. “These awards would allow them to maybe slow down on work and focus some more time on schoolwork.”
Trent’s international student body, including refugees, has grown significantly over the past few decades, adds Professor Morrison, a past director of Trent International Program (TIP), a long-time member of the Politics Department, and the founding chair of what would become the Department of International Development Studies.
This growth has boosted the University’s diversity, cultural life, and reputation for excellence.
“Students who came to Trent as refugees have gone on to make a real contribution to Canada,” he says.
As for Prof. Heitlinger, she says she knows refugee scholars face myriad challenges including feelings of disorientation, alienation, loneliness, and the need to work long hours outside of class to make ends meet.
In terms of being a refugee, she says she had a ‘Cadillac experience’ as she did not endure much stigma, enjoyed ample support and a happy ending but she knows many refugee students face far more serious challenges.
“It is my hope these new awards give refugee scholars some of the support they need as they pursue their dreams and create their own happy endings,” she says.
About the Donors
Dr. Alena Heitlinger, the recipient of the Trent University Distinguished Research Award in 2000, has published widely on feminist, demographic, health, employment, childcare, migration, and ethnic issues in the former Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, and the post-communist Czech Republic. Her last two books were the widely acclaimed Émigré Feminism: Transnational Feminism (1999) and In the Shadows of the Holocaust & Communism: Czech and Slovak Jews since 1945 (2006).
Dr. David Morrison, who received the Trent University Eminent Service Award in 2007, joined the Trent faculty in 1967 and served in a variety of teaching and administrative leadership roles in the University including provost, dean of arts and science, director of the Trent International Program, director of Trent’s CIDA-funded program on watershed restoration in Ecuador and Mexico, and director of the Trent-in-Ecuador Program. He has also been acting president and vice-chancellor, interim vice-president (academic), president of the Trent University Faculty Association, and senior don at Champlain College. Professor Morrison authored Aid and Ebb Tide: A History of CIDA and Canadian Development Assistance (1998), as well as two other books and numerous articles on international development issues.