Boise State community supports students impacted by U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan

Veteran Memorial installation, Boise State
Photo by Claire Keener

With the last few military service members, civilians and Afghan partners nestled within their hulls, a final flight of C-17 Globemaster transports rose from Kabul Airport shortly before midnight on Aug. 31

The world is watching as a spectrum of political figures and news pundits contemplate an end to the United States’ 20-year presence in Afghanistan and what that withdrawal portends. 

Locally, a number of organizations at Boise State University are already doing what they can to ensure that students who might be impacted by these events are able to find support.  

Boise State is home to a large number of students with immigrant or refugee backgrounds, each arriving through a unique set of circumstances. 

With such a wide array of experiences, reaching out to students to offer help can be challenging. Student organizations like the Inclusive Excellence Student Council (IESC) are a resource that students can turn to for support. 

“We’re super open to conversations and to talking about these kinds of issues,” said sophomore nursing major and IESC member Girisha Sepla. “Our hearts are with those students who are impacted and we’re here to listen, even if it’s just ranting.” 

Boise State serves a small but growing number of students who identify as refugees. In 2019, nearly 200 student refugees were enrolled at Boise State. 

Jamaladdin Mohammadi, a senior pre-med health sciences major, began high school in Afghanistan before traveling through Iran to reach Turkey, where he graduated high school before coming to the U.S.

Veteran Memorial installation, Boise State
[Photo of the Veterans’ Memorial on Boise State campus, located near the Student Union Building]
Photo by Claire Keener | The Arbiter

With a brother serving in the Afghan military, Mohammadi has a uniquely personal insight into the complexities of stabilizing Afghanistan. 

“When we look at Afghanistan, we should look at the ethnic anatomy. It is not about democratic, or Islamic or jihadist rule,” Mohammadi said. “Afghanistan has never been a national government, but instead an ethnic government, a tribal government.”  

Referring to the U.S. withdrawal, Mohammadi relayed his brother’s account of an Afghan military in disarray before the advancing Taliban.

“The army didn’t fight, they just pulled them back,” Mohammadi said. “Taliban was hitting and soldiers were dying, and they weren’t allowed to fight. 300 Taliban melted us in 11 days.”

Some students may feel as if the events in Afghanistan are half a world away from the sun-dappled lawns of the Boise State campus. However, that isn’t the case for Mohammadi and others like him, who remain keenly aware of the deteriorating situation.

Dr. Gail Shuck is a faculty advisor for Boise State’s Multilingual Student Alliance (MLSA). Shuck recommends that students who want to support the refugee community take the time to learn about refugee experiences. 

“You can hear the stress in their text messages,” Shuck said of students she’s in contact with. 

Engaging with organizations like the MLSA to find out what local refugee groups need most is also important. The MLSA has developed a network to support refugee students, but there are still gaps that have been exacerbated by COVID-19 and other political factors. 

“We need more language instruction,” Shuck said. “Mastering English is one thing, but the nuances of academic English require a deeper understanding.”

The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan can provoke different reactions based on particular experiences. A common misconception can be that two decades of combat operations in Afghanistan have produced a generation of military veterans who struggle to cope with the aftermath. 

Boise State’s veteran services provides facilities like a computer lab and a book-lending library. They also maintain a close relationship with the Veteran Affairs regional office in Boise.

Richard Renz is a school certifying official at the Veteran Services Center who works regularly with student veterans at different stages of their academic career. Renz said that veteran services is supporting almost 1,400 student veterans this year.

“I’ve never seen a veteran affairs system work like here in Boise,” Renz said. “If you’re a veteran and you need some help here, there are people who are willing to help at the drop of a hat.” 

The staff at Boise State’s Veteran Services remain prepared to provide an avenue to support, but as Renz points out, everyone follows their own approach to handling complex issues.

“We’re not broken,” Renz said. “Some of us have seen some hard times, but for veterans to only be focused on during the worst of times is another toll, another brick we have to carry.” 

Anxieties stemming from Afghanistan are universally complex and unique for every person, but what binds the Boise State community is a willingness to support all of its members and a desire to know where that support can best be of service. Whether through an academic advisor, a roommate or a friend in class, the first and most important step in finding help is reaching out and trusting that a fellow Bronco will be there, now and in the future.

Additional resources:

May 3, 2016 TedxBoise Talk What it feels like to be a Refugee hosted by Belma and Refik Sadikovic

Dec 11, 2020 TedXBoise Talk Being a Cultural Broker hosted by Salome Mwangi

Boise State Multilingual Student Alliance 

TRIO Rising Scholars Program

English Language Support Programs

Intensive English Program 

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