Student Highlight

Shabnam Fayyaz
Monday, December 28, 2020

Columbia University has recently announced the inaugural cohort of recipients for its Scholarship for Displaced Students. Created and administered by the Columbia Global Centers, the program provides tuition, housing, and living support for refugees and other displaced students pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees. 

Shabnam Fayyaz from Afghanistan is enrolled in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Fayyaz was born in 1996, the year the Taliban came to power, before fleeing to Quetta, Pakistan, where she lived in a refugee community. She is now focusing on human rights studies, with a concentration on refugees and forced migration. ISHR recently interviewed Shabnam, to gain more insight about her experience in the Human Rights Studies M.A. Program so far.

Why did you decide to pursue human rights for your academic and professional path? 
My experiences growing up in an Afghan refugee camp in Quetta, Pakistan and later applying for asylum in the U.S. coupled with my undergraduate studies at Earlham College motivated me to pursue graduate studies and a career focused on human rights. I am particularly drawn to work on gender and forced migration, including the difficulties women face as refugees and migrants.
Why did you select this program? 
As an undergraduate at Earlham College, I was a Peace & Global Studies (PAGS) major with an emphasis on law and justice.  I also participated in a study abroad program in Vienna and Berlin that focused on examining the question of immigration in Austria and Germany.  When I reflected on my undergraduate studies, I realized I was passionate about topics and issues dealing with women and human rights, refugees and forced migration, and the Middle East and Central Asian regions of the world. I wanted to understand more about the migration of women (to escape conflict and gender-based violence) from Muslim majority countries like Syria and Afghanistan, countries from which it is extremely difficult for most of the women to travel without the permission of men. I was keen to understand how refugee and immigration law and human rights conventions impact migration and particularly how these laws shape women’s and men’s experiences and opportunities differently, particularly in light of rising anti-immigration sentiment in the west.  These interests led me to search for graduate programs on human rights and refugees/forced migration. I found the one program in the U.S. that matched my interests, the M.A. in Human Rights Studies at Columbia University. 
What is your concentration and research interests? 
My concentration is on Refugees, Forced Migration, and Displacement.  I am interested to work on gender and forced migration, particularly the difficulties women face as refugees and migrants. I am also interested in Afghan women’s rights and women’s participation in peacemaking and peacebuilding processes.    
What advice would you give to those who are interested in the Human Rights Studies M.A. Program?
I love the focus of the program, the opportunity to take courses from so many disciplines across the university, the diversity and relevant experiences of both the students and the faculty, the kindness and concern of the faculty for their students, and the location of Columbia in New York City with all of its opportunities for internships and future careers in the field of international human rights.