Abed Alsolaiman can’t remember whether he first heard of UChicago from a friend’s older brother or from a mailing pamphlet. But the more he researched it, the more confident he was that it was the place for him: “I consider myself a fan of intellectual conversations, and I’d heard there's a lot of them here,” he joked.
Alsolaiman hails from Salt Lake City, but he has always felt close to his family’s Syrian roots. In the ninth grade, he had the opportunity to explore this heritage firsthand, when his mother’s work with a humanitarian relief group brought him to Gaziantep, Turkey, a city about an hour from the Syrian border.
For a year, Alsolaiman enrolled in a school for displaced Syrian children, meeting people that had escaped the conflict and making friends he keeps in touch with today. Upon returning to Utah, he found that his time in Gaziantep had kindled a passion for social justice—so he found and formed new avenues for civic work across Salt Lake City. Over the course of high school, Alsolaiman helped organize fundraising dinners in support of victims of the Syrian conflict, worked with the ACLU of Utah and supported the Salt Lake Peer Court, a restorative justice organization which redirects underprivileged youth with petty crime charges away from the juvenile justice system.
Now that he’s in Chicago, Alsolaiman intends to dig deeper into the intersection of economics, social justice and politics. In particular, the city’s housing debate has caught his attention: “I think when we talk about social justice, you have to focus on the economic aspects of what’s hurting disadvantaged communities. What were the historical causes of this, and how can we remedy it?”
For the time being, he’s getting used to life in Burton-Judson, focusing on his coursework, and reminding everyone to vote in the primaries.
“Yes, the world can be overwhelmingly pessimistic, and for good reason—things sometimes don’t seem super great,” he said. “But I think so much of this work is just getting people to realize their role in the greater mechanics of society—and what it can be.”