URI junior Lina Al Taan Al Hariri wins Truman Scholarship for R.I.

Cranston resident fled Syria when she was 11, now dedicated to public service career in defense of displaced populations

KINGSTON, R.I. – April 12, 2023 – Lina Al Taan Al Hariri, a University of Rhode Island junior triple majoring in international studies, global language and area studies, and gender and women’s studies, was in Amman, Jordan, when she joined a Zoom meeting Friday afternoon that delivered some big news.

URI President Marc Parlange, Kathleen Maher, assistant director of the Honors Program who runs the office of national fellowships and academic opportunities, and several of Al Hariri’s professors were on the screen to tell her she was awarded a Harry S. Truman Scholarship. The award is one of the premier graduate fellowships in the United States for public service leadership. She is URI’s 16th Truman Scholar.

Al Hariri, a student in URI’s Honors Program, is the only Truman Scholarship recipient from Rhode Island this year, and she is one of just 62 recipients nationwide. Al Hariri was chosen from 705 applicants representing 275 institutions.

Truman Scholars receive up to $30,000 for graduate or professional school, participate in leadership development activities, and have special opportunities for internships and employment with the federal government.

Upon completing her graduate education with a specialization in human rights law, Al Hariri said she aspires to use her legal expertise “to advocate for the protection and promotion of the rights of forcibly displaced people, including refugees, internally displaced persons, asylum seekers, and stateless individuals, to ensure access to fundamental rights. My goal is to see to the implementation of policies and resources which will allow them to integrate into their new communities and make meaningful changes in their lives.”

“I am honored that the notification email was sent to the president (Parlange), which meant that it was big news for the whole URI community and not just me. I was also dazzled by my adviser Kathleen Maher’s excitement,” said the Cranston resident, who is interning with the Refugee Service teaching English to refugees. “The Zoom call was such a sweet and thoughtful moment, especially given that I am currently abroad and couldn’t be surprised in person. I truly appreciate it.”

“Lina represents the very best of what we aim to instill in all our students: leadership in and out of the classroom, passion for service, and commitment to our community and the greater good,” Parlange said.  “Since joining URI as a transfer student, Lina has been a powerful voice for cultural change, an advocate for refugees, and an integral part of URI’s development of the world’s largest human rights dataset, CIRIGHTS, which will be used by researchers, NGOs, policymakers, and others as a tool to track human rights globally. Lina is a model Truman Scholar, and we celebrate this well-deserved recognition.”

Al Hariri said her internship teaching refugees in Amman “has been an incredible experience, holding conversation classes and helping those who are learning English, especially since I was once in their position not too long ago.”

Established by Congress in 1975 as the living memorial to President Harry S. Truman and national monument to public service, the Truman Scholarship carries the legacy of the 33rd president by supporting and inspiring the next generation of public service leaders. The Truman Foundation identifies aspiring leaders when they are college juniors and recognizes their commitment to careers in public service. Today, Truman scholars work at the White House, sit on the Supreme Court and serve in federal and state legislatures. They are transforming nonprofits, delivering crucial services and organizing for change in local communities. They are also leaders in academia, research, health care and the armed services.

Al Hariri, is grateful to URI for all of its support, including flying her back to New York from Jordan so she could complete her 20-minute interview with a seven–person panel at the Truman Foundation.

“The Truman scholarship is all about the investment in students,” Al Hariri said. “Even if I hadn’t been selected, I was so happy that Kathleen Maher had believed in me and invested in my education. She met with me on weekends, after work hours, even when she had COVID-19, meeting with me on Zoom.”

Given those criteria, it’s no wonder the Truman Foundation selected Al Hariri. Not only is she serving refugees in Amman, at the same time she is taking 18 credits through the Council on Educational Exchange in the Middle Eastern Studies program. She is also enrolled in a global economics class with URI economics professor Richard McIntyre. Al Hariri’s semester abroad in Jordan is partially funded by the Benjamin Gilman International Scholarship, a U.S. Department of State initiative to increase access to study abroad to students from lower-income backgrounds. She has also been selected for the U.S. Foreign Service Internship Program, and has been placed for the summer of 2023 in the Secretary of State’s Office of Global Women’s Issues in Washington, D.C.

The plight of refugees, and particularly that of women and children, is personal to Al Hariri, who fled to the Jordanian border as her home village was stormed by (Bashar Hafez) al-Assad’s troops. Three years later her family became the second family to be resettled in Rhode Island.

Even prior to her study-abroad work, she volunteered with refugee organizations, served as an officer in the URI Muslim Student Association, and she is an active member of her community and the Masjid Al-Kareem in Providence, Rhode Island, regularly volunteering at events and participating in various activities organized by the mosque. She was given the top role for a new volunteer, regional vice chair for the New England team, for the annual Charity Week Campaign in 2022. This effort annually brings together Muslim youth worldwide to raise money for orphans and children in need.  

Al Hariri coordinated and organized events and activities, and served as primary liaison between the team and the participation, finance and event organizers. She and her team recruited 33 institutions, including URI’s Muslim Student Association, local mosques and the Harvard Muslim Student Association. Her team’s work and her contributions led to a 57% increase in the participation of Muslim student organizations. The team raised $42,123, which contributed to the overall international total of $2.3 million.

Al Hariri was part of the launch of CIRIGHTS, developed by URI and Binghamton University researchers as the world’s largest global human rights dataset. As part of the project, she was asked to present her findings on women’s rights before a large crowd of scholars and administrators.

“During the Q&A that followed, Lina was able to calmly and fearlessly refute suggestions that religious faiths themselves were responsible for human rights offenses,” Maher said. “She reminded the audience that those who misuse and misrepresent religious faiths for their own gains are culpable.”

Brendan Skip Mark, director of URI’s Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies and co-director of CIRIGHTS, said in his recommendation letter to the Truman Foundation that Al Hariri scored women’s rights for every country in the world for the dataset.

“Lina completed her work with a level of detail I ascribe to graduate students,” he said. “It is rare to find a student with as much drive and ambition as Lina. … She is a natural leader who is committed to engaging in public service to make the world a better place.”

With this lengthy record of public service and human rights work, it’s not surprising that she has a strong, global position on the need to advocate for refugee and immigrant rights.

“My interest in helping refugees extends to all asylum seekers and displaced people, regardless of their origin,” Al Hariri said. Regarding U.S. immigration policy, she noted that changes to asylum policies have made it more challenging for migrants to seek protection in the U.S.

She said finding a solution is not easy, but it is, in her opinion, a responsibility of the international community.

“The U.S should play its part in supporting those who are fleeing persecution, violence, and other forms of hardship. We need to approach this issue with empathy and respect, recognizing the humanity of all those involved.”