In 2011, civilians across Syria joined peaceful protests calling for government reforms. Many of these protestors were university students. After a brutal military crackdown, demonstrators called for the removal of the current Ba’ath administration. During this time there was an explosion of art, writing, and music dreaming of a Free Syria. Syrians began to organize locally through Local Councils across the country. The repercussions for students who participated in protests or Local Councils were often detention or death.
Today, the seven year long conflict has impacted every aspect of a Syrian student’s life, from the the safety of their families, to the food in their fridge, to the electricity they need to study.
Over 6,000 schools have been attacked or damaged. Thousands more university students have been killed or detained mainly by the Assad regime, others killed by armed groups or the US-Led Air Coalition.
100,000 university-ready Syrian students have been displaced outside of Syria, and in the United States, there is an estimated 2,500 resettled Syrian refugees who are university age. These students are ready to apply and re-enroll in school.
“I was living in the dorms of Aleppo University. They [regime officers] came in the evening, on the first day of exams. They beat me with the butt of a gun, took my phone and blindfolded me. I was given a 'welcome party' when I arrived at the police station in Aleppo. A man grabbed me and started beating me, then another person came and they were beating my head against the wall. It felt like my whole body was bleeding. They tortured me for four hours.”
Campuses across the United States and around the world are mobilizing to support Syrian students. Through initiatives like Books Not Bombs, university students hold peaceful demonstrations, petition-drives, pass student government resolutions, and meet with their administrators to create scholarships.
Argentina, Japan, Lebanon, Turkey, Mexico, and Germany are just some of the countries leading in scholarship creation for displaced Syrians.
Higher education has long understood the importance of scholarships during refugee crises. During World War II, universities across America created scholarships for students and scholars fleeing Nazi Germany. Administrators understood the potential of universities to provide refuge and a space to learn and grow for academics in wartime.