Recent CJP Grad Produces Documentary Humanizing Syrian Refugees, Returns To Campus As Teaching Fellow

Myriam Aziz MA ’17 is CJP’s new Teaching Fellow this year. She brings experience working with UNHCR and Syrian refugees in her native Lebanon. An arts-based peacebuilding grant from CJP last year helped fund the production of Aziz’s documentary about Syrian refugees, which she hopes to show in Washington D.C. and elsewhere in the coming months.

By the time Fulbright Scholar Myriam Aziz arrived from Lebanon to start her master’s degree at CJP in fall 2015, the U.S. presidential primary was already underway. Aziz was dismayed to hear some Republican candidates wanted to make the vetting process of Syrian refugees even more rigorous and restrictive.

“I had experienced firsthand who these refugees are and the journeys they had been on,” says Aziz, who spent two years working with Syrian refugees in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley, as a registration assistant and a senior resettlement assistant with the UNHCR, a refugee agency.

After an ineffectual lobbying visit to a local politician, she began thinking about other ways by which she might more effectively introduce Syrian refugees to an American public that often misunderstands them.

With a grant from CJP, Aziz returned to Lebanon in December 2016, where she filmed interviews with Syrian refugees and created a 25-minute documentary.

“When you think of Syrians, you think of us as terrorists, as burdens,” says one young man in the film. “We are fleeing war. We are attempting to start new lives. Why would we create more problems for ourselves?”

Aziz is now pursuing a number of ways to make sure the documentary is seen, including possible showings with congressional staff in Washington D.C., in hopes of increasing the number of Syrian refugees settled in the U.S. “They need us more than ever, because they’re unable to be here to talk themselves,” she said. “If anyone in the United States would like to collaborate or use this documentary, please don’t hesitate to contact me.”

As that work continues, Aziz has returned to campus to become CJP’s first-ever teaching fellow. During a one-year fellowship, Aziz will teach in the undergraduate peacebuilding and development program, assist with graduate-level CJP courses, and help peacebuilding and conflict studies professor Gloria Rhodes to develop a training program on conflict resolution in the workplace.

“Like many of our students, Myriam arrived at CJP with a good deal of field experience,” said Jayne Seminare Docherty, CJP academic programs director. “In working with Gloria Rhodes as a teaching assistant, she found she had a gift for teaching as well as a passion for it. Myriam also proved herself to be an able scholar with a flair for reflecting on the realities of working in the field.”

The arrangement will offer benefits to all involved, added Docherty, with Aziz gaining experience as an instructor, undergraduates learning from a recent CJP grad with distinctive field experience, and CJP receiving assistance developing the new training program.

“If this works well, we would like to create a yearly Teaching Fellow position for a recent CJP graduate,” Docherty said.

After finishing the teaching fellowship at EMU, Aziz plans to eventually pursue a PhD and then, a career in the Lebanese Foreign Service.