Senior is first Yale student from Syria to win a Rhodes Scholarship

Political science major Marwan Safar Jalani ’20 is one of two winners of a Rhodes Scholarship for the Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine region.
Marwan Safar Jalani ’20

Marwan Safar Jalani ’20 (Photo credit: Egan Jimenez)

Marwan Safar Jalani ’20 is one of two winners of a Rhodes Scholarship for the Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine (SJLP) region.

The Yale student was chosen from among hundreds of applicants for the prestigious scholarship, which has a three-round screening process involving leaders, policymakers, and leading academics working in the region. Rhodes Scholars are chosen on the basis of intellectual achievement, strength of character, leadership potential, and ability to “push the frontiers of innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges.” The scholarship for the SJLP region is made possible through a partnership between the Said Foundation, The Rhodes Trust, and the University of Oxford.

Rhodes Scholarships are postgraduate awards that cover two years of study at Oxford University. The other recipient, Ali Daher, is a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

There was no shortage of energy and inspiration during interviews for two new SJLP Rhodes Scholars last week in Amman, Jordan,” said Liliane Chamas, the Rhodes Trust’s national secretary for the region. “The finalist cohort included exceptional candidates who are tackling some of the most pressing issues facing the region. From young leaders at the heart of civic engagement and community-building, to environmental leaders rethinking sustainable practices for a planet in peril, to health and technology leaders developing the next generation of innovations and systems driving prosperity, a commitment to service was in abundance. The SJLP committee is thrilled to welcome two of these outstanding individuals to Oxford next year and delighted to have been part of the journey of the other finalists who will undoubtedly drive immense progress in their fields.”

Safar Jalani will pursue an M.Phil. in comparative government at Oxford, where he hopes to explore institutional design in war-torn and post-conflict contexts. At Yale, he is pursuing a B.A. in political science, focusing particularly on human rights. Born and raised in Al-Qaboun, Damascas, in Syria, he left the country in 2012 due to the war, moving to Egypt, then Turkey, before attending the United World College in Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina. As an undergraduate, he has worked at Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services in New Haven and at the Bronx Defenders and Human Rights Watch in New York. He served on the United World College Syrian National Committee and as president of the Yale Refugee Project. He enjoys cycling, writing poetry, and performing spoken word.

I am so incredibly happy to win the Rhodes Scholarship,” said Safar Jalani. “I still can’t believe it. It has been a dream for me. When I fled Syria with my family as a 15-year-old, all I hoped for was to find somewhere I could feel safe. We flew to Egypt. We flew to Turkey. I went to study in Bosnia & Herzegovinia. My family fled to Sweden. I got accepted to go to Yale and moved to the United States. And now I’m on my way to Oxford! I will go as a Syrian, proud of my identity, proud of my people who have endured so much, and hopeful about a future for Syria.

My movement between countries, taught me to look at the world comparatively, to draw social and political patterns between countries, and to think about my knowledge of people and places that host me as an inspiration for future Syrian identity, state, and institutions,” he added.

Rebekah Wesphal, assistant dean in Yale College and director of Fellowships and Funding, said, “I am thrilled for Marwan. This is an incredibly special, timely, and well-deserved honor for him. It is particularly wonderful because he is the first Yale student to be awarded a Rhodes Scholarship in the SJLP jurisdiction.”

Established in 1903, Rhodes Scholarships are the oldest and one of the most prestigious international graduate scholarship programs in the world. Nearly 8,000 Rhodes Scholars have gone on to serve at the forefront of government, education, the arts, NGOs, commerce, research, and other sectors. Students interested in the scholarship should consult with Wesphal ( Deadlines for Rhodes competitions vary, but begin in the summer.

Rhodes Scholars from the United States, Canada, and other jurisdictions will be announced later this month.

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