MSU program seeks to explain Syrian conflict, help child refugees

Contact: Zack Plair

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Anthropology and Middle Eastern Cultures graduate students at Mississippi State University are working to fix real-world problems.

As part of this mission, students will host a free public program, from 7-9 p.m. Oct. 23, designed to explain the Syrian civil war and help raise funds to aid young refugees fleeing the fighting. The event will be held at Mississippi State’s Cobb Institute of Archaeology, located at the intersection of Lee Boulevard and Hardy Road.

Proceeds from a silent auction will go to the Save the Children Fund’s Syrian relief effort. Auction items range from Middle Eastern pottery to Greek drawings.

MSU archaeologist Sylvia Deskaj is leading the team of graduate students organizing the event, which will include light refreshments and special tours of the Lois Dowdle Cobb Museum.

“These types of conflicts repeat themselves, so we hope this event will help people understand, in context, why this conflict occurred and its effects,” Deskaj said. “We also want people to walk away knowing they were able to do something for the greater good of humanitarian efforts.”

Hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians have left their homeland in an attempt to escape fighting that began in 2011 between government troops led by President Bashar al-Assad and rebel forces seeking to oust his regime. The overwhelming numbers of Syrians pouring into bordering countries have created a refugee crisis that is beyond those nations’ capabilities to handle.

At the same time, militant troops of the Islamic State in Syria have been destroying ancient archaeological sites deemed heresies to their religious ideology.

During the Friday night program, MSU assistant professor Kate McClellan, an anthropologist who studies Syria and traveled this summer to Jordan, will discuss the war’s human side as she focuses on the conflict’s cultural impact and plight of its refugees.

Professor Michael Galaty, head of the department, also will speak on cultural heritage losses caused by the conflict.

“It is academically and intellectually important for people to understand what is going on over there,” said Galaty, also the Cobb Institute’s interim director.

“A lot of these refugees were a lot like us, middle class families with jobs, living in their houses and doing their thing; then everything changed,” he emphasized.

Galaty said non-governmental organizations like Save the Children are helping relieve some of the refugee burden. He also praised the MSU graduate students for organizing the multi-purpose program.

“It’s a great thing they are doing,” he said. “Some of these students may one day have jobs where they work directly with refugees like the ones now fleeing Syria.”

For more on the event, contact Deskaj at or 662-325-3826.

Details on Save the Children’s Syrian efforts are found at

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