Education for Everyone

The UW-Madison junior is petitioning her school to offer ten scholarships to Syrian refugees.

By Kara Mercer, Northern Illinois University


War has raged in Syria for nearly six years, taking the lives of over 450,000 people and uprooting millions from their homes.

College students are among the refugees trying to find a safe place. After witnessing the war in her home country, University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) junior Nour Saeed was inspired to act. A proud dual-citizen originally from Amman, Jordan, she has helped Syrian refugees in higher education by petitioning for UW-Madison to offer ten scholarship opportunities to Syrian students.

Aside from petitioning at her school, Saeed has also recently co-founded a Facebook group, called Stories to Break Borders, to promote communication and support. The Political-Science major is passionate about connecting with others by pushing herself out of her comfort zone. Saeed’s story is an important one, as it can inspire others to take actions within their college community.

Political-Science Major Nour Saeed Is Speaking up for Refugees

UW-Madison student Nour Saeed

The petition I created to provide Syrian refugees with university scholarships is a project I am passionate about. Having grown up in Jordan, I witnessed the Syrian civil war begin in a very personal matter. Syria is a neighboring country to Jordan, and we Jordanians felt the effects of the war immediately. All of a sudden, there were more Syrian students in our schools, refugee camps started going up along the borders and Syria, the beating heart of the Middle East, was being reduced to rubble before our eyes.”

“As a firm believer in education and its ability to create change and bring about opportunity, I thought that would be a great avenue to try to help victims of the Syrian conflict. Lasting change is created through education, and I wanted to do my best to help the victims.”

I set up the petition through the Books Not Bombs campaign, a nationwide campaign that calls on higher-education institutions to provide scholarships to Syrian refugees by joining the Syria Consortium. I started the chapter for UW-Madison with a baseline of ten refugees, to align with the university’s capability.”

“The goal of the petition is to help Syrian students access higher education in the United States. What a lot of people don’t know is that there are many talented and qualified individuals living in Syria who are trapped within its war-torn borders. As such, bringing these individuals to the United States through scholarships is mutually beneficial.”

The biggest barrier I’ve run into is President Trump’s travel ban. It was a major setback on the progress I have made in collecting signatures and getting faculty support on campus. The order banned refugees from all over, and it placed an indefinite ban on Syrians. Although, the courts have recently frozen the ban, which has allowed me to continue the initiative.”

The travel ban hurt me. The Syrian uprising that started the war was part of the Arab Spring, a movement by the Arab people calling for the democratization of the region. The United States stood by the people of Syria and aided them in their pursuit of democracy. When the use of chemical weapons against civilians began, the United States armed the rebels, and the war has been ongoing ever since. To have the Trump administration label these people as terrorists and ban them strikes me as contradictory and unjust.”

“The United States encouraged the pursuit of democracy, then slammed the door in the face of people who have lost their families in pursuit of the freedoms Americans take for granted every day. I was shocked and deeply hurt. The ban shook me to my core and went against everything I believed in as a pro-democracy American citizen.”

I have continued to petition at my school by pressuring senior-faculty members to speak out in opposition of the ban. Educators and university presidents carry a lot of influence in political spheres, so having a unified, scholarly voice against the ban is a great way to discredit and combat it.”

I am proud of the way UW-Madison is handling the travel ban. There were peaceful protests conducted to oppose the president’s ban. I participated in a few myself, but there was one in particular that stuck out to me. I joined a march organized by the UW Law School, with student speakers sharing their stories and opinions in light of the president’s executive order. I made signs and marched alongside my friends from the Jewish student-organization on campus, Hillel. It was a beautiful and inspiring experience for me. Our unity and solidarity in the face of injustice was transcendental.”

I really do believe that if you want to make time for something, you can find a way to do so. I’ve found time to lobby and petition by being efficient with my schoolwork and prioritizing personal projects over free time. This initiative means a lot to me, and I don’t feel right about wasting a single second of my time, while innocents are dying in Syria.”

After college, I hope to start my own media-related business. I am interested in news reporting and foreign policy, but I believe political analytics are becoming increasingly divisive and less authentic. I hope to create a media platform that adds a humanizing element to the news, rather than reducing global events to generic headlines. It’s important to see an event through the eyes of those who experienced it in order to truly understand it. It is my goal and dream to bring such a platform to the world.”

Find Nour on Instagram at nourbssaeed.