Zaina Chaban

Portrait by  Alex Gerberick

Portrait by Alex Gerberick

Tell us about yourself.
So, I’m really involved on campus. I’ve always wanted to be involved in general. Coming to the University of the Pacific, I realized there wasn’t a cultural organization and that to me is really important, so I started Middle Eastern Club my freshman year. Since then I’ve joined multiple organizations. I’ve become an RA, I’ve joined Delta Epsilon Mu (a professional Pre-health fraternity), and I've also started Pacific's Books Not Bombs Campaign

Why is Middle Eastern Club so important to you? 
The Middle Eastern Club is really important because it provides a safe space for people. It provides an opportunity for growth and I think it’s important to have a place for people to really connect, learn, and grow. 

What is your background?
I’m from Sacramento but my parents were born and raised in Syria (the capital actually). So with everything that’s been going on it’s been really hard. Just, um, from a different perspective it's more salient to me because I worry about my other family that’s back there. Thankfully everyone’s okay but it definitely is really challenging.

Do you have a lot of family in Syria? 
Yeah. I only have my immediate family and an uncle and an aunt here. 

When did you parents come here?  
They came here around 30 years ago. It was not necessarily hard for them at the time. They actually moved right to San Francisco which is definitely a thriving community. It’s also a little harder to adapt to because it’s such a big city. They love going back there on little trips as well. 

Have you been to Syria before and visited? 
We used to go every summer until the conflict started arising, so I definitely feel like that’s a big part of me as well. I always associate myself as a Syrian American although I was never born or raised there. The multiple trips during the summer really gave me a new cultural perspective and it’s really like my home away from home. All my family is there and I learned so many of the cultural values that are really necessary from visiting.

If you had 30 seconds to tell someone something about the Syrian people right now, what would you want to tell them?
I think I want to say that it’s been going on for so long and it’s so hard for them that there’s a generation of lost children. I think they’re losing the opportunity to grow and become stronger and become the doctors and engineers and the business people that we would expect to see in any generation. I think that’s really unfortunate and that’s why it’s so important for me to do as much as I can to help.

Can you tell us a little more about the Books Not Bombs Campaign? 
It’s a campaign to help provide scholarships to Syrian refugees. It’s been really important to me because I feel like that’s the closest thing I can do to help the Syrian people and provide that generation with an opportunity to grow and become the leaders that we need in our world. The Books Not Bombs petition actually provides scholarships to Syrian refugees across the country, so it’s not limited to the states. There’s actually petitions in the Middle East and in Europe and I think it’s incredible all the support I’ve gotten at the University of the Pacific. We already have over 400 signatures and I’ve already been able to meet with administration.

Have you received any backlash at all or has it mainly been positive? 
There’s always going to be negative aspects to anything. There’s been a lot of negativity that’s been hidden from me which is good in part because of how committed to this and how passionate I am to help. But the positivity always surpasses the negative I think because I keep looking at the signature page and I keep seeing it growing and I keep seeing people sharing my post. It's incredible to see people who don’t have the same background as me wanting to help. I think that’s something that’s necessary for any community, people who want to support, and I think I’ve found that a lot here.