The Office of the Provost released a memorandum that announced USC’s membership in the Institute of International Education Syria Consortium for Higher Education Friday. The University will provide scholarships each academic year for at least three Syrian graduate students in an effort to be a “leading private institution dedicated to the global public good.” The memorandum went on to say “it is important that we not only cultivate a safe haven for these displaced scholars and students but that we afford them every opportunity to succeed in their academic endeavors here.”
While it is commendable that the University joined the consortium, it is disappointing that the scholarship and recruitment efforts will be limited to graduate students only. Certainly, undergraduate recruitment has a unique set of obstacles. But if 58 other institutions of higher education in the IIE Syria Consortium can find qualified undergraduate students, USC should be just as capable.
Last December, the Undergraduate Student Government Senate rejected a resolution that called for USC to sign onto the consortium. The resolution at the time was backed by 38 campus organizations and more than 60 faculty members and was also passed in the GSG Senate. There were two main arguments against the resolution — that passing the resolution would make for a “divisive” campus climate and that recruiting undergraduate students during one of the greatest humanitarian crises in the 21st century is difficult.
Nine senators signed a letter prior to voting on the resolution which said that they “support the goals expressed in the resolution.” Yet, in the Senate minutes, they did not feel comfortable speaking on behalf of their constituents after the November Paris attacks.
Conflating a humanitarian crisis with an issue of national security not only assassinates the character of Syrian students but also paints these senators as apathetic and ignorant. According to GSG Sen. Christopher Lo-Records, who advocated for the resolution, the vetting process for refugees is comprehensive. In fact, he mentioned in his proposal that the United States has accepted 750,000 refugees since 9/11 without any threats to national security. That being said, no effort for undergraduates to be included in the IIE Syria Consortium has been made clear, and I find that unacceptable.
This is most likely because of the logistical, financial and linguistic barriers to the undergraduate recruitment and admissions. Due to the severity of the civil war, most Syrians have been out of school for the past five years. The logistical obstacles stemming from this makes undergraduate admissions for Syrian refugees more complex than it is for their graduate counterparts. Many high school or college students were ousted from their normal lives and, in the process, were unable to receive academic transcripts and test scores critical to university admissions. How does a university like USC admit students with little understanding of their academic backgrounds without compromising the legitimacy of the institution and the standards for admission?
Fortunately, there are many avenues to ensure the quality and academic promise of refugee students that surpass the confines of a traditional admissions process. A great example of unconventional, but successful recruitment is the Jusoor Scholarship Program, which is open to Syrian women who have demonstrated “exemplary social service with leadership, academic excellence, and civic responsibility, who have characteristics reflecting the importance of empathy, humility, courage and resilience, and who have potential to serve as global leaders,” according to Jusoor. This scholarship program feeds students to its key partner institutions — the Institute for International Education, Illinois Institute of Technology, EducationUSA and Monmouth College, all of which are part of the consortium.
According to the IIE and UC Davis, about 200,000 Syrians are currently displaced from higher education despite finding refuge in the countries surrounding Syria. Regardless, Syrian youth have proven to be resilient in the face of civil war and displacement; certainly, students of this caliber have skill sets not found in the average Trojan and can make the University a more diverse and competitive institution of higher education.
USC has taken the first step in addressing this issue and what it plans to do for graduate students is truly remarkable. However, the University should look into alternative ways to provide the same opportunities for undergraduate students. USC accepts well over 18,000 undergraduate students every year, offering generous scholarships and financial aid packages. USC should offer a few of those spots to Syrian youth who otherwise would have very little chance at getting an education.