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Afghan refugees at ASU look ahead to restoring their homeland

Afghan students at ASU keep sights on restoring their homeland.
April 21, 2022

Female students transition to life as Sun Devils, decry ban on girls' education in Afghanistan

Members of the Afghan community at Arizona State University are pleading with the world to support the education of girls and women in Afghanistan, so they can lead that country out of a dark and uncertain time.

“My own experience of getting an education has changed my life,” said Fahima Sultani, one of 61 young Afghan women who came to ASU in December 2021. “I believe that girls and women need to go to school to become independent women who can speak freely and make their own decisions.

“Education is a fundamental human right that, in the past several months, has been taken from millions of Afghan girls.”

Sultani spoke at a panel discussion Monday night titled “Briefing on Women's and Girls' Education: Focus on Afghanistan,” co-sponsored by the Afghan Student Association, ASU Education for Humanity, the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College and The Melikian Center: Russian, Eurasian and East European Studies.

Sultani and her peers from Afghanistan were students at the Asian University for Women last year. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they were learning remotely from the university, which is based in Bangladesh.

When the U.S. pulled its troops out of Afghanistan last summer, the Taliban took over the country. The Asian University for Women scrambled to get all of its Afghan students out of the country. Amid harrowing chaos at the Kabul airport in August, all 148 AUW students from Afghanistan managed to get on a plane to Saudi Arabia. They then traveled to Spain, Virginia and finally to Wisconsin, where they were among 13,000 Afghan refugees processed for resettlement at Fort McCoy.

An ASU team began working to bring some of the students, all of whom speak English, to Arizona. The arrival on Dec. 15 of the 61 young women was the result of a massive coordination of effort and donations, led by Pamela DeLargy, executive director of Education for Humanity at ASU.

The women’s resettlement is being co-sponsored by the International Rescue Committee and ASU in a unique partnership. ASU also is providing scholarships and housing for the students.

The president of the Asian University for Women, Kamal Ahmad, visited ASU this week and spoke at the panel discussion. His university has more than 1,300 students from 19 countries.

The president of the Asian University for Women, Kamal Ahmad, visited ASU this week and spoke at the panel discussion. His university continues to facilitate the evacuation of hundreds of women from Afghanistan. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Ahmad said that when the Taliban took over Afghanistan last June, it was clear what his university had to do.

“We, as an institution, could not surrender from that responsibility,” he said. “We immediately went to work to try to organize the evacuation.”

He was inspired by the courage of the women, who went through a terrifying ordeal at the Kabul airport before their escape.

“Almost immediately after the 148 students from Afghanistan came to the U.S., we said, ‘Afghanistan may be closing for girls’ education, but we can’t.’

“We moved another 171 students from 17 provinces. Our target is to get 600 women out by August. Every day, we’re trying to move 10 or 12 without garnering anybody’s attention.”

The 61 women are still transitioning to life at ASU, figuring out which degree program to choose and getting support from Global Launch. They’ll be able to transfer their credits from the Asian University for Women. Some are already taking regular ASU classes. 

Sultani and another Afghan student at the panel said that ASU students have been welcoming, and they were happy to see how many are from other countries. Some of the ASU students have expressed surprise at how educated and qualified the young women from Afghanistan are.

“Sometimes I think, ‘Why wouldn’t we be?’” said Mina, who gave only her first name.

Sultani and Mina said they are very grateful for the chance to advance their educations at ASU. But they struggle with the heartache familiar to many refugees.

“I don’t think the feeling will go away from me that I can focus on my personal life and forget my roots, and that I came from Afghanistan and the people there are still suffering,” said Mina.

Rangina Hamidi, who was Afghanistan’s first female minister of education before fleeing as the government fell last year, also spoke at the event. She is now a professor of practice at the Thunderbird School of Global Management at ASU. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

She said she has been in touch with young women in Afghanistan who are struggling to continue their education, surreptitiously meeting in study groups and hidden schools.

“What they need is the international community to give them opportunities, like online education,” she said.

“Don’t recognize the Taliban as the official government. Put pressure on them to reopen schools.”

All of the Afghan speakers were passionate about the fate of their country. Ahmad said that the Asian University for Women is evacuating students to ensure a stable future.

“We’re doing this because there will be a time when Afghanistan will reopen and become a normal country where women will be received as equals,” he said.

“At that time, it will be important to have women who are educated and capable. We are building a brain bank with the hope that it will help Afghanistan become more prosperous.”

Rangina Hamidi, who was Afghanistan’s first female minister of education before fleeing as the government fell last year, also spoke at the event. She is now a professor of practice at the Thunderbird School of Global Management at ASU.

Hamidi faced ferocious backlash while she was minister for her efforts to bring equity to education.

“My ability to manage such an institution was questioned. I started to ask hard questions. It was OK for men to allow injustice to happen, but when a woman comes to question those injustices, she is put on the spot for not being qualified enough,” she said.

Hamidi told the young women at the panel discussion that Afghanistan is not going to be in the dark forever.

“And it will be you who are the future leaders,” she said. “One legacy of the international investment of the past 20 years is a love for education, and you are the embodiment of that love and the desire of the Afghan people.”

Ahmad said that the Asian University for Women has launched a new project to train its displaced students as teachers for other female refugees. And when he arrived at ASU on Monday, Sultani immediately asked him how she could participate.

“I am hopeful,” he told her. “But you have to get the best education; collectively look for that future and create it.”

Top image: ASU student Fahima Sultani fled Afghanistan last year after the Taliban took over the country. She arrived at ASU in December. She spoke about the importance of education for girls and women in Afghanistan at an event on April 18. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News


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Newly dedicated Roskind Great Hall honors donors’ ongoing commitment

April 21, 2022

After decades of service to the ASU community, Herb and Laura Roskind’s latest gift creates new opportunities for students

Since 1997, husband and wife Herb and Laura Roskind have been a part of the Arizona State University community in myriad ways, having a profound impact on students within The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and across the university. In recognition of their ongoing commitment to student success, The College dedicated the Great Hall in Armstrong Hall on the Tempe campus in their name on Wednesday evening.

“I really see the Roskind Great Hall being the focal point, the nexus, for all students,” said Laura Roskind. “As they spend their four years as an undergraduate or a graduate student, at some point they do pass through that hall, and I'm hoping that will have great meaning for students, whatever they do in the future, and to sustain a sense of curiosity and learning all through their lives.”

The Roskinds’ long relationship with ASU began when they moved from Massachusetts to Arizona after Herb retired. As they were looking for a way to get involved in their community, the couple decided to take several courses.

From there, they connected with faculty members, and Herb was asked to lend his expertise in global commodity trading to a textbook. This grew into Herb teaching Global Trade in Real Time — a course that emphasizes the role of cultural differences in global trade negotiations — in the School of Politics and Global Studies (SPGS). Herb has now taught the course as a faculty associate for over a decade, but his impact extends far beyond the classroom.

“More than what he teaches students in the classroom — what’s made a tremendous impact to our SPGS students is Herb’s mentorship, which doesn’t end when his course ends,” said Magda Hinojosa, director of the School of Politics and Global Studies. “Ten, 12 years later, he’s still keeping in touch with his former students and providing advice.”

In addition to Herb’s involvement as a faculty member, the Roskinds have been actively involved with a number of university initiatives. They serve on The College Dean’s Council, the Institute of Human Origins' (IHO) research council and executive board, the ASU President's Club and the Cornerstone Society, and are involved with the School of Earth and Space Exploration, the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict and the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

For over five years, Laura served as an ASU trustee and will soon rejoin as a trustee this August. She also initiated the implementation of several other dean and directors boards across the university, of which she also serves as a member, including for the ASU Art Museum, the School of Politics and Global Studies, the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, and the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts Dean's Creativity Council.

A woman sits in a chair while her husband leans on the back of it while they pose for a photo

Laura and Herb Roskind have been involved at ASU in myriad ways, from investing in student success programs to both taking and teaching courses. Photo courtesy the Roskinds

“Herb and Laura’s philanthropy and dedication to IHO, including their service as executive board and various committee members, has been really significant to the success of IHO’s faculty research, graduate student training and general operations of the institute,” said Yohannes Haile-Selassie, director of the Institute of Human Origins. “I believe they will do everything possible to make sure that IHO remains the global leader in human origins research. This is their vision, and their vision is IHO’s vision as well.”

The couple has invested in several programs within The College, including the Early Start program, a free, two-week immersion program for first-year students that helps them prepare for the transition to ASU. 

Their most recent gift will help to expand the efforts of The College’s Futures Center, with the development of new paid internships and mentorship opportunities for students across The College. In addition, the gift will help to strengthen programming to support students as they prepare to graduate and go into the workforce.

“This gift by Herb and Laura Roskind is allowing us to provide financial support to many students who need financial assistance to make those internships work,” said Patrick Kenney, dean of The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “The pathway from the beginning to the end of college is a complete avenue for which The College is working all the time — getting them started well, getting them finished well — we’re happy to name the Great Hall after them.”

Moving forward, the Roskinds are eager to find new ways to offer support to The College and continue advancing access and opportunities for all students.

Top photo: Laura Roskind cuts the ceremonial ribbon at the dedication of the Roskind Great Hall in Armstrong Hall on the Tempe campus on Wednesday evening. Her husband, Herb (right), and Patrick Kenney, dean of The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, clap behind her. Photo by Max Conacher/The College

Emily Balli

Manager of marketing and communications , New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences