The United Nations referred to the Syrian crisis as “the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era.” The crisis has led to the destruction of over 6,000 schools, with the international community labeling Syrian students as a “lost generation”— but it doesn’t have to be this way. Universities can play an enormous role in providing refuge for displaced students while they work on bettering their lives. Rice University in particular is in a great position to lead by becoming the first university in Texas, and one of the first in the South, to offer scholarships to displaced Syrian students.
Over 78 universities, including Brown University, Columbia University and New York University, have joined the Syria Consortium, a group of education institutions committed to supporting Syrian students, primarily in the form of scholarships. The Syria Consortium mitigates the difficulties involved in determining whether or not a university possesses adequate financial, social, and cultural support for refugee students. The Books Not Bombs campaign urges universities around the world to join this Consortium.
Rice’s mission of “[contributing] to the betterment of our world” and “cultivating a diverse community of learning” precisely aligns with the mission of the Syria Consortium. Having one of the most culturally, economically and intellectually diverse campuses in the world, Rice benefits from admitting Syrian students, as many have unique field experience that they are looking to bring to the academic sphere. Past recipients of scholarships at other institutions have included a student who managed a polio vaccination team to successfully push back the disease and a political science student who now has her own consulting company. From casual conversations to debates in classes, having voices represented from around the world would enrich the lives of students and the greater Rice community.
Some might ask how many Syrian students are actually qualified for admittance into Rice. Previous application cycles at similarly competitive schools have been overwhelmed by qualified applicants for a few select spots. Columbia received 56 applications, resulting in more qualified applicants than the six spots available. In 2014, more than 4,000 Syrian scholars sent in applications through the Consortium, of which approximately one percent were awarded scholarships. There are about 2,500 college-age resettled Syrian refugees in America who cannot afford higher education, and countless more are seeking asylum. The deficiency lies in the number of schools willing to take a stand in support of these students, not in the number of qualified students.
This fall, a resolution will be introduced calling for the Student Association to support the Books Not Bombs campaign, proposing that Rice University join the Institute of International Education’s Syria Consortium. For now, a petition is available to students, alumni and faculty who would like to express their support. The petition has already received 220 signatures — a number that is still growing. The Rice community is committed to diversifying campus and serving as a nurturing educational haven for scholars worldwide. Joining the Syria Consortium is a great opportunity to affirm this commitment.
Justin Onwenu is the president of the Student Association and a Sid Richardson College senior. Danna Ghafir is head of Books Not Bombs at Rice and a Martel College senior.