Despite the controversy last spring on Sheherazad Jaafari´s admission to Columbia, the former press aide of Syrian president Bashar al Assad is now studying hassle-free at another university in New York, Communiqué has learned.
She is currently enrolled at The New School of Social Research, a small university with a liberal reputation.
Jaafari was one of the most controversial students to be admitted to Columbia. Students at the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), where she planned to study, along with Syrians based in the United States, asked the university to rescind her admission due to her work for a government allegedly responsible for war crimes. “To avoid being harassed,” Jaafari did not enroll at SIPA, she explained in September in an interview with Communiqué.
Until now, her presence at The New School had gone unnoticed by those who campaigned against her at Columbia.
Contacted by Communiqué, Rashad al-Dabbagh, a spokesman for the Syrian American Council, a grassroots organization based in Illinois, said that “any institution she enrolls in would be indirectly complicit in supporting the regime.”
“I reiterate our earlier stance to reject her admission for her role in advising Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to manipulate the American public,” said Al-Dabbagh.
A university spokesman, Sam Biederman, declined to comment on her enrollment, citing privacy, but said that The New School evaluates candidates on the basis of their merits.
After a recent class on a Monday evening for her Graduate Program in International Affairs, some of Jaafari´s classmates at The New School said they had no knowledge of complaints about her admission.
One student, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid her resentment, said that many classmates did not know she had worked for the Syrian government, but a rumor about her identity had been circulating since orientation week last September.
“There is more gossip than real opposition to her enrollment,” added this student.
In her interview in September, Jaafari said that she wanted to study at SIPA next year after the controversy had settled down, but now she seems to have abandoned the idea.
“SIPA is a past chapter in my life,” she told Communiqué after her Economics for International Affairs course at one of The New School buildings in Greenwich Village. “I came here (to The New School) to remain anonymous and to not be disturbed,” she added, but did not want to discuss the matter further.
In another conversation with Communiqué, Jaafari´s mother, Shareez, said that while her daughter still wants to pursue a Ph.D. at Columbia, she does not support that option.
“I do not want her to study at a university where people do not accept her,” she said, and mentioned how disturbed the family was last June when they saw CNN interviews with SIPA students criticizing her for working for President Al Assad.
Her mother also revealed that an administrator at SIPA had suggested Jaafari use a fake identity in order to avoid harassment. “She was told that people who do not want to be identified can do that.”
Associate Dean Caroline Kay acknowledged that students have done this in the past but did not comment on specific cases.
Jaafari, however, is using her real identity at The New School, according to her classmates, but keeps a low profile.
One of Jaafarí´s female classmates, who also requested anonymity to avoid her resentment, said that this is not difficult at their program because many of the students are working part-time and classes are held in the evenings.
However, according to one of her male classmates, it is not clear that she is deliberately trying to keep her past unknown.
“On the first day of orientation week, she introduced herself by her real name, said that she came from a family of diplomats and that for that reason she liked international relations,” he said.
Around 40 students were present for the economics class, one of the core courses of the program, taught by professor Max Fraad-Wolff, a frequent contributor to CBS, Bloomberg, and other news outlets.
Jaafari, like other students, arrived a few minutes late without the professor’s objection.
She had dyed her hair blonde and was dressed casually, in jeans and t-shirt. “That is weird because her style is normally more posh,” a couple of female classmates commented later in a conversation with Communiqué.
That sense of fashion would make her clearly stand out in a class environment where the students predominantly belong to the hipster subculture.
Jaafari sat on the first row and paid close attention to professor Fraad-Wolff´s lecture about fiscal policy and his comments on the so-called U.S. fiscal cliff, one of the main financial news stories these days.
In a laid-back style (professor Fraad-Wolff used the F-word several times), students participated during the lecture, answering the professor´s open questions that were intended to check student´s understanding of the United States’ fiscal dilemma.
Jaafari was no exception. “Could you clarify the concept of the balanced-budget multiplier?” she asked, referring to a theory that argues that the economy can be stimulated without running fiscal deficits.
After an hour and a half of class, Jaafari left without talking to any other students.
Bashar´s former press advisor was controversial at SIPA for political reasons, but at The New School, if she’s noticed at all, it might be for much more conventional reasons.
One of her male classmates recalled seeing her at orientation, observing, “everybody was paying attention when she spoke. Because she was the first to stand up to introduce herself, and because she was very hot!”
Fernando Peinado is a first-year Master of International Affairs student.