“Syria’s Lost Generation: A Human Rights Challenge to American Higher Education”
By Sara Phelps – UC Davis Human Rights Minor
Educators, academic leaders, and students gathered in early December at UC Davis to discuss the role of U.S. universities, including UC Davis, in helping student refugees access higher education. The public event was organized as part of a joint effort between UCD’s Office of Global Affairs, the UCD Human Rights Studies Program and the Institute of International Education to develop principles and best practices to support Syrian refugee students and others in this time of crisis.
Dr. Keith David Watenpaugh, the director of the UC Davis Human Rights Studies Program, opened the event by arguing that the human right to education is “about justice” and that U.S. universities have a responsibility in “creating a culture of human rights through education.”
Human rights professionals from two NGOs, the Institute of International Education (IIE) and Jusoor, an organization that provides scholarships and other resources for Syrian refugees, discussed the different programs they have developed to assist refugee students. Daniel Obst, the Deputy Vice President of IIE, provided an overview of IIE programs, which include the IIE’s Emergency Student Fund and the IIE Syria Consortium for Higher Education in Crisis. Maya al-Kateb, the Director of Jusoor, described her organization’s mentorship and scholarship programs for Syrian refugee students.
The key word of the event was “resilience,” which presenters argued was fostered through education and support. Adrienne Fricke, the Syria Advisor to Physicians for Human Rights, discussed the importance of specialized educational training in resilience-based capacity building. The event concluded with an inspirational presentation by Megan Mozina, the Director of the International Initiatives and Strategic Alignment at the Illinois Institute of Technology, on the success of the “Syrian Students for a Better Future” program. In this program, the university partnered with Jusoor to grant several dozen Syrian students scholarships to attend the Illinois Institute of Technology.
The next steps of the initiative include the creation of a document on the principles and best practices of supporting refugee students in higher education, which universities around the US will be asked to sign on to as a guide to further implementation.