Following the success of last semester’s event, Syrian Refugee Awareness Week was hosted again at NYU as part of Ally Week 2016. A collaboration between students from several schools within NYU as well as surrounding colleges, the event brings together students looking for ways to understand the crisis and engage in ways to help Syrian refugees. OCA got the opportunity to catch up with Madeline Dolgin, Social Media Director of the event, to learn more about the week and the message it intends to spread.
When asked about the inspiration for Syrian Refugee Awareness Week, Dolgin replied, “For me, personally, I just got frustrated learning about the crisis through my Facebook page and watching people argue over this huge problem of refugees. What I wanted to see was how we could be aiding refugees… it’s something that is hard to ignore when you’re seeing photos of dying people and these insane statements being made against innocent refugees who are becoming victims not only to their government but to fear-mongering rhetoric from the US. What’s worse is to hear how these statements are affecting my Muslim friends with increasing Islamophobic attacks and statements about terrorism.” Dolgin is a Jewish student who has made several friends through the Bridges Muslim-Jewish Inter-Faith club and the Multi-Faith Advisory Council. She states, “As a Jewish student, my unique relationships with these Muslim students can challenge prejudice given a long history of war between our people. I will do anything to challenge prejudice and stand up for them in the same way that I will for refugees.”
The event began last semester when some staff and students from NYU got together after hearing from Sarab Al-Jijakli, a long time Syrian-American community organizer and the founding Director and National President of the Network of Arab-American Professionals and Shehab Chowdhury, Community Engagement Fellow, Unicef: Children First. The initiative then introduced the involved NYU members to other students already actively engaged with the issue. “Since then we have been building a network of students who are engaging in various ways either in advocacy or service, or who just want to do their part to aid this cause. Anyone is welcome to get involved. All of our meetings are open to the student body, and our events are open to anyone in NYC,” commented Dolgin.
Dolgin added, “We currently have student leaders from the Student Senators Council (SSC), various faith communities, students who had lived in Syria, politics majors, journalism majors, artists, and graduate students among many others who have come together to be involved in planning. As where last semester we were focused on humanitarian aid such as collecting clothing donations and funds, this semester we are more focused on education, engagement, and advocacy.”
This semester’s Syrian Refugee Awareness Week coincided with Ally Week, and was focused on raising awareness for the issue. The organization sold awareness bracelets and stickers and gave out information sheets about the crisis at the Kimmel Center for University Life while also writing letters to refugees and advertising for their panelist event. Other events for this semester’s week included an exhibition of stories of refugees who are giving back to the community that has welcomed them, a talk and discussion by Sarab Al-Jijakli, a panel of student voices who have volunteered with refugees while abroad, and a solidarity demonstration at Washington Square Park for a grand finish. The week served several purposes, such as raising awareness about the refugee crisis in Syria and globally, raising funds to support the International Rescue Committee, illuminating ways to get involved with the issue both in New York and abroad, and showing that the organization stands for welcoming refugees in America. Dolgin said, “We feel we have a large voice to leverage from the NYU community, and we hope coming together on Friday for a solidarity demonstration in Washington Square Park with a unifying voice will make a big statement and help to combat the prejudice towards refugees in our nation.” The demonstration involved several artistic elements for attendees to engage in and to take photos of so they can be shared on social media, along with speeches and performances highlighting the stories of refugees.
“It’s been exciting to watch this initiative grow since last semester. I hope our awareness week unifies the voice of the NYU community and beyond in calling for action from our government,” commented Dolgin.