Push for Syrian Student Scholarships is Disrupted, but Not Over
About a year ago, Christopher Lo-Records (L.A. ’10) went to work for Books Not Bombs, a new organization whose goal is to help Syrian refugees from “the lost generation” attend American colleges and universities on scholarship. Syria’s university system is in ruins, half the country has been displaced, and more than an estimated 200,000 Syrians who had been in college before and during the Syrian war are in an educational limbo. They’re refugees scattered around the world where they face financial and language barriers, struggles to obtain visas, and the kinds of roadblocks to college admission that go largely unnoticed, like the inability to obtain transcripts from Syrian schools that no longer exist.
Before the Trump administration imposed a travel ban on anyone coming to the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority nations (including Syria), Lo-Records, a former Los Angeles high school teacher, had been working with student activists on 200 American college campuses to raise awareness of the dire situation of college-age Syrians, and to persuade their colleges and universities to establish and finance scholarships.
Thousands of students have signed petitions, written articles and organized. A few colleges (including Columbia University and Michigan State University) established scholarships, and dozens more had signed on to begin the process through a program coordinated by the Institute of International Education’s Syria Consortium for Higher Education in Crisis.
At the University of Southern California, where Lo-Records attends graduate school, six scholarships were established, and six Syrian students were admitted. When the Trump administration imposed the travel ban, those students had been in the process of applying for visas to enter the U.S.
“Obviously, the executive order (banning travel) has turned a lot of this work on its head, and put everything into a state of incredible uncertainty,” Lo-Record said.
On Friday, before the travel ban was temporarily suspended (and the suspension upheld) by judicial order, Lo-Records and the other member of the organization’s two-member staff were shifting their focus toward coordinating with other organizations to help the 2,500 Syrian students studying at U.S. schools on visas. Lo-Records was also working with student activists to continue their campus fundraising and publicity efforts. “A lot of organizers,” he said, “have been galvanized.”
- To follow developments or support the efforts of student activists, follow Books Not Bombs on Facebook, its blog, and its website. Lo-Records can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Other nonprofits serving refugee students’ needs include Institute of International Education, Jusoor and Karam Foundation.
- For teachers seeking lessons and other materials on the Syrian refugee crisis, Lo-Records recommends I Am Syria's Educator page.
- For general information about the interplay between the refugee crisis and education, Lo-Records recommends UNHCR and Refugees Deeply.
About the Author
Susan Brenna joined One Day in 2014 as its editor-in-chief. As a writer and editor, her reporting on education has appeared in numerous publications, including New York magazine. She has worked in New York, New Jersey, Texas, Georgia, and Maryland. She lives in Brooklyn. Email Susan Brenna.