A coalition of UC Irvine students raised over $93,000 to support scholarships for refugees at a fundraiser last Thursday. The student-led scholarship program for refugee, asylee and asylum-seeking students will be the first of its kind in the nation, according to the Books Not Bombs initiative, a national organization for refugee students.
The fundraiser was led by Iman Siddiqi, a fourth-year political science and global Middle East studies major, as well as a UCI Dalai Lama Scholar and Aldrich Scholar. Siddiqi organized the fundraiser as part of a yearlong campaign to advocate for refugee students at UCI, using funds from her Dalai Lama Scholarship to plan the event.
Siddiqi began advocating scholarships for refugees after she began working with refugee and asylee communities — largely those fleeing from the Syrian Civil War, now approaching the start of its seventh year. The United Nations has declared today’s refugee population, encompassing more than 65 million people, “the greatest humanitarian emergency of our time.”
Last year, Siddiqi initiated resolutions that were passed at seven UC campuses — Los Angeles, Berkeley, Davis, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Riverside and San Diego — in support of scholarships for refugees and asylees. She then presented the scholarship initiative to UC Regents, but was met with hesitation from some Board Members. Thus, Siddiqi decided to raise the necessary funds herself, after winning the distinction of 2017-18 UCI Dalai Lama Scholar and using part of the accompanying $6,000 project fund to jumpstart the event.
“Over the past year or so, we’ve been encouraging the UC administration to create scholarships for asylee, asylum seeker, and refugee students through the Books Not Bombs campaign,” said Siddiqi in a press statement. “When the UC administration expressed the challenges of creating these scholarships, we decided to create our own program.”
Since many refugee and asylee students cannot receive state or federal aid, funding must come from private scholarship sources, Siddiqi explained at the fundraiser. The Refugee Student Scholarship Program — contributed to by more than 200 UCI students, faculty, and members of the community — will endow students with aid according to their needs. UCI faculty members and Access California Service will comprise an evaluation committee for applications.
Siddiqi and her colleagues, having nearly met their $100,000 fundraising goal, are optimistic about the future of the Refugee Students Scholarship Program at UCI, and hope that other campuses nationwide will begin implementing similar programs.
“I care about this scholarship program because it serves a purpose in enriching the academic journey of displaced students who have given back to our community,” said Ayesha Abdallah, a UCI student and volunteer at the fundraiser. “This scholarship program is a way of repaying those students and their families by allowing them to continue their education in order to improve their communities and ours as well.”