January 15th marked the day all Princeton students dread -- Dean's Date. Dean's Date is akin to D-Day, when all that time procrastinating during Reading Week comes to haunt us as we desperately write tens of pages over prompts we do not even understand. But, like any other Dean's Date, we survive and celebrate another victory. The students at Aleppo University had to take their first final exams that same day but had no reason to rejoice. Two rockets tore through the campus, setting cars ablaze and ripping dormitory walls, resulting in 87 fatalities and more than 160 wounded so far. Recently, Aleppo has been a battleground between the Assad regime and rebellion forces with blood being spilt on both sides.
This eyewitness report taken from the blog Yalla Souriya vividly portrays the horror of that fateful day and the angst all Syrians must face:
" We were in the cafeteria. All the glass fell over us because we were near it. Me and Muhammad were together. Muhammad was injured over his brow and was taken to a field hospital. I got injured in my knee, but the bleeding stopped. We didn't know what was happening because Muhammad wouldn't stop bleeding. Bodies flew into the air from the blasts and there were pools of blood. The hospitals were filled with corpses and guts. You would be an animal not to cry. We tried to escape, without thinking, but we got dizzy. I saw bodies on the ground, but you can't count because you don't know if what you're seeing is a body or part of a body. I wish God would take my life before I ever see another sight like this again. People, dogs, inside the University would say to us "is this the freedom you want?"
This is a difficult anecdote to relate but this is the dark reality that now encompasses Syria. The intentional targeting of civilians and the calamities that follow show no end. This perilous atmosphere has forced hundreds of thousands of citizens to leave all that they have ever known. Families are forced to leave their homes, livelihoods, and other relatives behind. Students must abandon countless years of study with only a fraction having the luxury of resuming them in other countries. Many of my close friends and relatives have shed several strenuous years to attain an education only to have their aspirations put on hold, forced out of the very country they strive to move forward.
Both sides are pointing fingers (I would argue the Assad regime perpetuated the attack) but that is beside the point. The explosions desecrating the calm campus marks new boundaries of Syria's revolution to areas once spared the violence. The University is a sacred place, a medium where men and women grow to contribute later to society. It is where the future takes its firm hold. Without it, the country cannot hope to produce the professionals, thinkers, and workforce essential to maintaining a functional society. Bearing this in mind, Syrian students forbearingly attend school for a degree that may cost their very lives.
Clouded by problem sets, papers, and exams, it is easy to lose sight about why we put up with our arduous studies to begin with. We have become so consumed by the fanciful career path we frantically tread but it is time to remember why we are here. Through pens and paper, we fight for the very same objective our Syrian counterparts fight for -- a better fate for our country. We are blessed to be an environment where we can dutifully pursue our studies but we should recognize that even in our own backyards there are students facing exposure to poverty, prejudice, and even indiscriminate violence.
The world is changing exceedingly. Peoples from all walks of life are refusing to persist in a province where corruption, inequality, and anguish are the norm. The spirit of the Arab Spring has shaken the Middle East and diffused beyond its borders. The waves of protests have inspired afflicted demonstrators in Pakistan, Croatia, Spain, China, Maldives, and several other countries to stand up for what is rightfully theirs. We must stand in solidarity for the students of the University of Aleppo, for Syria, for Egypt, for Pakistan, for the children of Sandy Hook, for all seeking protection of inalienable rights and the capacity for the betterment of their homeland. We must ensure the well-being of our own youth and equip them with the resources to realize their dreams. And, above all, we must not overlook why we struggle everyday. To embody the Princeton motto "in the nation's service, and in the service of all nations," we need to stand between the oppressors and the oppressed in whatever road we choose, to whatever degree we can.