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Sarah Herrman


SPSSI Calls for the U.S. State Department to Help Afghanistan’s At-Risk Scholars

Sarah Mancoll, MS, SPSSI Policy Director

In August of 2021, SPSSI joined Scholars at Risk and many other higher education institutions, scholarly associations, and NGOs in writing an open letter that urges the U.S. State Department to expand its efforts to help Afghanistan’s scholars, students, practitioners, and civil society leaders and activists, especially women and ethnic and religious minorities. 

As the open letter explains, Scholars at Risk—an international network of over 500 higher education institutions in 40 countries whose core mission is to protect threatened scholars and intellectuals—is “racing to offer assistance to colleagues in Afghanistan who at this moment are desperately seeking ways out of the country. Many have already moved into hiding and may soon take the perilous step of looking for a way over land borders. They may not have worn a uniform or received a US government paycheck, but for the better part of twenty years they have fought alongside US interests for a new, rights-respecting, forward-looking, knowledge-based Afghanistan. Hundreds of them traveled to the United States to seek an education and returned to their homeland, dedicated to values of openness and tolerance. These are not the values of the Taliban, so their lives are now at risk.”  

The letter makes several concrete policy recommendations for the U.S. Government to enact. Scholars at Risk is also circulating a similar open letter that addresses European Governments and E.U. officials

What Can Scholars Outside of Afghanistan Learn from Afghan Scholars? 

Dr. Allida Black (of the Georgetown Institute of Women, Peace and Security and the Miller Center for Public Affairs at the University of Virginia) and Robert Quinn (of Scholars at Risk) recently penned an opinion piece for Newsweek on the need for U.S. universities to help Afghan scholars. In it, they emphasize not only how countries like the United States could help displaced scholars from Afghanistan, but also how countries like the United States could benefit immensely from these scholars’ insights and expertise.  

They also write that universities have already contacted them “to host scholars, students, civil society leaders, judges and lawyers, women's rights defenders and journalists on their campuses.” They go on to say that, “This immediate positive response from U.S. higher education institutions underscores the opportunity to forge a nationwide campaign to place Afghans, especially Afghan women, in fellowships on U.S. campuses, where their insights could augment faculty research, stimulate student engagement and promote thoughtful, insightful civic dialogue. Imagine what the academy could learn from a woman attorney who successfully prosecuted the Taliban, a deputy finance minister in charge of fighting corruption and rebuilding a failed state, a woman who risked her all to stand up for women's rights and organize across Afghanistan and educators who built school systems from scratch.”

What Can I (Or My Institution) Do? 

Scholars at Risk has put together a webpage filled with resources for people who would like to get more involved in advocating for and/or assisting Afghan scholars/practitioners. Here are some of the resources you will find there: 

  • Application materials for Afghan scholars/practitioners and displaced scholars from other countries who would like to be considered for assistance at foreign institutions 

  • Informational materials for institutions that would like to consider hosting a displaced scholar/practitioner or becoming part of the Scholars at Risk network 

  • Links to the open letters addressing U.S. and European leaders (You may add your name as a signatory if you wish) 

  • Information about upcoming webinars and news items on this topic  

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