This week, resolutions were introduced in the Undergraduate and Graduate Student Government Senates, urging the administration to provide spaces and funding to Syrian refugee scholars and students by joining the Institute for International Education’s Syria Consortium. In the coming weeks, the resolution will also be introduced in the Academic Senate, where it already has the support of more than 50 faculty members. At the core of these proposals is a recognition that the cause of refugee scholars and students is not a political or national security matter, but rather, a test of our commitment to the values of openness, tolerance and compassion that make our universities and our society great.
The resolutions were written in October, in response to news that Oxford University was moving to provide accommodation to Syrian refugee students and scholars. In doing so, Oxford joined more than 50 institutions —including Boston University, Notre Dame, Tufts and others — that took similar steps in the past five years. Given that USC was not yet on the list, and that it previously signed on to help refugee scholars from other countries by joining IIE’s Scholar Rescue Fund, it seemed an obvious area for action.
The need for such action is great. We are now in the fifth year of the Syrian Civil War. More than 200,000 people have died so far in the conflict, and 4.2 million people have fled the country. This 4.2 million is not a monolith. It consists of Arab and Kurdish Sunni Muslims; Alawite, Shia and Ismaili Muslims; Christians of various traditions; Syrian Druze; secular people; and others. It is a diverse group. A good part of that 4.2 million is of college age.
Recognizing the need to connect Syrian students and scholars with host institutions outside of Syria, the Institute for International Education founded the Syria Consortium in 2012. IIE is an organization that has, throughout its hundred-year history, helped find places of refuge for more than 600 scholars from 50-plus countries. During World War II, it helped to resettle refugees fleeing the Nazi regime. Currently, it is focusing its attention where the need is greatest — on Syria. Participating Consortium institutions work with the IIE to create a plan to host refugee scholars and students, allocating an amount that makes sense for the individual institution, ranging from small scholarships of fewer than $5,000 per student to full funding.
Institutions that take part in the Consortium are heirs to the tradition of the university as a refuge for those fleeing persecution. In the last century, students and scholars from Iraq, Vietnam, Cuba, the USSR and other countries found sanctuary at American colleges and universities, including here at USC. During World War II, refugee scholars such as Thomas Mann, Hannah Arendt and Albert Einstein were all offered places at American universities.
All students who come into the United States are subject to security checks by the State Department. This screening process lasts 18 to 24 months and is effective. According to The Economist, more than 780,000 refugees have come to this country since 9/11; in that time, three refugees were arrested on homeland security-related charges, comprising .000038% of the total population.
So, to be clear, providing refuge to refugee scholars and students is not about national security or politics. It is about morality. It’s about a moral obligation that we who live in countries that have not been scarred by war have to provide refuge to those who are being persecuted and killed. We cannot, in the president’s words, “close our hearts to the victims of violence.” We must, instead, live up to the proudest parts of our history and show the same kindness and humanity to Syrian refugee scholars as we have shown to so many millions of others in the past.
Masters of Public Policy, Third-Year Student
Senator, USC Graduate Student Government