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Student-run campaign calls for Ohio University to aid Syrian refugee students

Students at OU are calling attention to the refugee crisis. 

As the ongoing violence and bombing campaigns in Syria damage schools and universities in the country, one group of Ohio University students is trying to help.

Books Not Bombs, a campaign run by Ohio University's chapter of the anti-genocide group STAND, is trying to push universities to take in refugee students from Syria and to join the Syria Consortium.

The Syria Consortium is a project of the Institute of International Education and consists of member colleges and universities that have committed to taking in students who are refugees.

STAND, a student-led anti-genocide movement and a sponsor of the Books Not Bombs campaign, originally stood for “Students Taking Action Now: Darfur.” The organization’s first chapter formed in 2004 as a response to the conflict in Darfur, Sudan, and has since expanded its efforts, according to the organization’s website.

“Thousands of students are involved in this,” Luke Kubacki, the president of OU's STAND chapter, said. “We are just the Athens hub.”

The OU campaign currently has more than 140 signatures on its petition as of press time, according to its website. About 6,500 signatures have been collected at universities for the national Books Not Bombs campaign.

Along with calling on the university to join the Syria Consortium, the petition also calls for OU to provide at least 10 scholarships to Syrian students in upcoming classes.

Hallie Zarbakhsh, the vice president of OU STAND, spoke about the campaign at OU’s fourth annual Arabian Night. According to her count, the group was able to collect 96 of those signatures at the event. Arabian Night was hosted by the Arabic Language Student Association.  

“We need to start empowering future leaders in Syria, and (the campaign) is one way to do that,” Kubacki said.

The Syrian Center for Policy Research estimates that more than 470,000 people have died because of the conflict in the country, and by the end of 2015, about 45 percent of the population had moved or fled the country.

Although the situation in Syria is marred by violence, Kubacki said empowering Syrians to rebuild their communities both politically and economically is important when looking beyond the conflict.

OU STAND has not yet approached university administration and likely won’t before next semester. Kubacki said at this point, the campaign is more focused on introducing the idea to the academic community.

Nicole Morino, the public relations director for the Arabic Language Student Association, said getting the university involved in an effort to help Syrian students would probably be a slow process, but OU does have the potential.

“It’s still a public institution, and being a part of these large events can be difficult,” Morino said.

The chapter also has considered approaching the International Student Union and Student Senate this semester.

Whether the U.S. should accept Syrian refugees has been a widely-discussed issue this past year, with some supporting resettlement and others voicing concerns.

“I do understand the fear,” Morino said. “People need to understand not every person from that region hates us.”

Kubacki said part of the campaign is about targeting inflammatory rhetoric.

“If stereotype is the only thing that’s stopping us, then that’s not a good enough reason,” Kubacki said.


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