First Thought

Insights drawn weekly from Karin Fischer’s global-education newsletter, latitude(s). Subscribe here.

For nearly two weeks after Kabul fell under Taliban control, Maryam Khademi checked her phone constantly. Even in the middle of the night, she heeded its slightest vibration. She was waiting for news that she could leave Afghanistan.

Maryam feared that living under the Taliban would mean the end to the life that she dreamed of. She was part of a generation of possibility, raised in the nearly two decades since the conservative religious movement had last governed Afghanistan.

Her dreams took her from hometown near the border with Iran to Bangladesh, where she won a scholarship to study at the Asian University for Women. AUW has an unusual mission: To take young women — many poor, some refugees, most with little educational opportunity — and to transform their lives and their communities through liberal-arts education. In just a decade, its alumnae have gone on to government offices, to international-aid organizations, to graduate programs at some of the world’s best universities. Think of it as a whole college of Malalas.

At AUW, Maryam studied politics, philosophy, and economics and minored in development studies. She planned to return to Afghanistan after graduation, where she wanted to start a mentorship program to connect younger students with the kind of transformational educational experience she had.

When the Taliban began its advance across Afghanistan ahead of a planned U.S. military withdrawal, Maryam was in Kabul, studying remotely because Covid-19 had closed AUW to in-person classes. She feared for the worst. The Taliban has targeted students, professors, and universities in its attacks. In particular, it has opposed the education of women and girls. And by mid-August, its forces had taken Kabul.

Continue reading more from Karin Fischer — and more on resources for aiding students and scholars in Afghanistan — in this week’s latitude(s).

And read Karin’s profile of the Asian University for Women and several of its students here.

The Reading List

  • Valparaiso University is the latest U.S. college to say it will close its Confucius Institute, citing criticism and the potential loss of federal funds.
  • A Kansas professor has filed a lawsuit against the FBI for allegedly misleading a federal judge while seeking warrants in a case against the professor for failing to disclose his ties to a Chinese university and talent-recruitment program.
  • The University of Tennessee chapter of the AAUP joins Asian American groups in asking a judge to dismiss a case against a former professor at the university who was alleged to have hid his affiliations with China. Anming Hu’s original trial ended in a mistrial.

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“It was important for us to protect them. You cannot exhort young people to show all these traits that you presumably value, and then, when they exercise them and they’re in trouble, you cannot say, ‘but you’ve already graduated, you’re not part of the community anymore.’”

—Kamal Ahmad, the founder of the Asian University for Women, on the strong responsibility he felt to the university’s 70 alumnae working in government, education, nonprofits, and journalism, as well as the 160 current and incoming students, in Afghanistan.

Read more from Karin Fischer on the AUW’s evacuation from Kabul: “‘I Am Hopeful, and I Am Heartbroken.’”