Sumi with sheik

Above, Dr. Sumi Colligan met with the sheikh of the clan in Dafyaneh, Jordan, where a number of Syrian refugees live. Below, a photo of one of the two Syrian refugee families she visited this summer as part of the CIEE International Faculty Development Seminar.

Professor Meets with Syrian Refugees


One out of every 10 people in Jordan is a Syrian refugee. Many other Syrian refugees also live in Turkey and Lebanon, because of their shared borders. 

That’s why anthropology professor Dr. Sumi Colligan headed to Amman, Jordan, and Istanbul, Turkey, this summer to participate in the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) International Faculty Development Seminar.

“By visiting the locations that are most affected, I hoped to deepen my understanding of what was taking place on the ground,” she said.

Colligan was one of nine faculty from across the United States to attend the seminar. She said the participants will use the foundation they received to write blogs or academic articles, develop curriculum for teaching, give presentations, and/or figure out meaningful ways to assist refugees from their home campuses.

“I think it will be most beneficial for my students for me to share stories I heard from the refugees themselves, as well as the perspectives of scholars and representatives of aid organizations in Jordan and Turkey,” she said.

Colligan has had a longstanding interest in this region.

“I did fieldwork in Israel and have returned numerous times. In the past, I have also visited Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates, so this seminar seemed like a natural for me,” she said.

C:\fakepath\Sumi Syrian family.jpgA highlight of Colligan’s experience included visits with two Syrian families who now live in Defyaneh, a Jordanian village located near the Syrian border.

“What stood out for me about their stories were not simply the dangers they faced, but also the hardships they encountered protecting their families and bringing them to safety,” she said.

According to Colligan, at least half of the population of Syria has been displaced or killed since the war began in 2011. Although approximately 10 percent are Christians, ISIL also has killed many Muslims, or has driven them from their homes and communities.

“Syrian Muslims who resist ISIL are labeled infidels and receive the same poor treatment as Christians,” Colligan explained. “The vast majority of the world’s Muslims see what ISIL represents as a significant distortion of Islam. One of the major tenets of Islam is ‘Do No Harm.’ Christians, however, receive asylum in the West more easily than Muslims.

While Colligan said it is hard to predict what will happen, an increasing number of Syrians feel compelled to leave their county as the economy collapses and as the future of their youth becomes bleaker because of disruptions in education and lack of economic opportunities.

A member of the American Anthropological Association since she received her Ph.D. in 1980, Colligan recently blogged about her experiences for the organization’s website, at

On sabbatical this semester, Colligan also plans a Brown Bag Luncheon talk at MCLA for early February 2016.