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Scholars-at-Risk Program

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Scholars-at-Risk Program

The scholars-at-risk program is an initiative of the College of International Studies to host scholars across the University of Oklahoma campus who have been displaced from their countries due to conflict or curtailing of academic freedoms.

“The scholars-at-risk initiative was initially proposed by our International and Area Studies faculty for one scholar. It really took off and expanded several-fold when I was able to tap into great and generous co-funding by the Farzaneh family as well as co-sponsoring colleges (including our own). It has been tremendously gratifying to see the enthusiastic support that has been extended to the scholars from across our OU community, and we look forward to welcoming several more, who are in different stages in visa and refugee processing, in the coming months.”

– College of International Studies Dean Scott Fritzen

About Our Scholars

Feroz Bashri

Feroz Bashari, PhD

Visiting Scholar, Gaylord College of Journalism and Price College of Business

Phone: 572-910-1385

Feroz Bashari is a visiting scholar at the University of Oklahoma. He teaches strategic communications, management and politics. He is a certified strategic communications expert who served for 20 years in this field. He worked as the director of communications at the office of the president of Afghanistan and the chief spokesperson for the government of Afghanistan for several years.

He also worked as the country media advisor for the U.S Embassy in Kabul as well as the head of strategic communications for the U.S. military in Afghanistan. His role was to shape government communication policy and narrative. He spoke to national and international media on political, security, social and economic issues representing the government of Afghanistan. He was the head of crisis communications task force in Afghanistan.

Bashari also served as interpreter as well as a cultural and political advisor for U.S. visiting senators and ambassadors, the U.S. Chief General for Afghanistan, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. Government Senior Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke, Senator John McCain, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staffs General Mike Mullen, and U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney.

He had trained ministers, governors and government senior communicators at cabinet and state levels. He was the only government chief communicator on anti-corruption who once served as university professor in Kabul.

Bashari holds a PhD in management, a master’s degree in political science and bachelor's degree in English Language. He was evacuated by U.S. Marines after his government collapsed in 2021. He was the first immigrant to administer the oath of office for Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt, when Holt was elected for a second term.

Bashari is a leader in the Afghan immigrant community in Oklahoma, and provides his community with education on American culture though his YouTube channel. Some of his interviews are available on YouTube and Google.

Husnia Hazara

Husnia Hazara

Omar Khayyam Scholar, Farzaneh Family Center for Iranian and Persian Gulf Studies


Husnia Hazara is a visiting scholar from Afghanistan. She holds a master's degree in urban planning and a bachelor's degree in urban development from Imam Khomeini International University, Iran. Before the August 2021 collapse of the government in Afghanistan, she served as dean of the faculty of basic sciences, engineering and technology at Payam Noor University (PNU) in Kabul.

Hazara also worked in the quality assurance department and teaching master's degree as professor at PNU. For several years, she worked as a coordinator (Destarkhan Meli Project); site engineer (GEO Built Construction Company); child supporter and social facilitator specialist (DRC); and manager (Esteghlal Educational Institutions) with International, national, government and private sectors in Afghanistan and Iran. In addition, she did volunteer work supporting children's and women's rights, an area of interest for her.   

After the crisis in Afghanistan, Hazara corresponded with many bodies and organizations on her options. Finally, with the cooperation of Fatemeh Shams, she was connected with the University of Oklahoma. After obtaining a humanitarian visa from Mexico, she was able to go to the U.S. embassy in Mexico City and get a U.S. visa. She arrived in the U.S with her family on March 13, 2022. Dean Scott Fritzen, Marjan Seirafi-Pour and Joshua Landis of the Farzaneh Family Center, and Jalal and Mohammad Farzaneh worked together to coordinate her visiting scholar position, which was made possible by a generous donation from the Farzaneh family.

After arriving to OU Campus, Hazara began taking English language courses at the Center for English as a Second Language, and during the summer she taught Persian as teacher's assistant. Hazara also celebrated a personal milestone on May 11, when she gave birth to her daughter in Norman. She says, "It was a great gift from my God!" 

For the fall 2022 semester, Hazara has a full-time English class at CESL, and she will teach Persian language as assistant professor (supporting Marjan Seirafi-Pour). She also plans to conduct research on urban planning issues with John Harris in the Gibbs College of Architecture Regional and City Planning program.

From Husnia: "I’m so glad to be at OU in Norman as an academic city. It is a peaceful and lovely place for living and working with great people and professionals from all over the world! In the end, I would like to sincerely thank all the people who cooperated with me and my family in this long trip from Kabul to reach Norman."

Shabnam Khalilyar

Shabnam Khalilyar

Omar Khayyam Scholar
Master of International Studies student, Department of International and Area Studies
Visiting Scholar, Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication


Shabnam Khalilyar, the first visiting Omar Khayyam Scholar at the University of Oklahoma, is currently a graduate student in the Department of International and Area Studies. She holds a master's degree in journalism and communication from Kabul University. She served as head of public opinion analysis and media monitoring at the Office of the Chief of Staff to the Afghanistan President until the Afghanistan capital, Kabul, fell to the Taliban.

Khalilyar’s grandfather and auntie, who were prominent journalists in Afghanistan before the country fell to the Taliban, were a great source of inspiration for her. She started her career as a TV host for a children's program when she was at middle school, and served as a TV host for several years. Khalilyar shifted her field to journalism, and worked as a news reporter when she started at Journalism and Communication College. She wrote feature reports for Salam Afghanistan Media Organization website, as well as preparing reports for radio programs of the same organization. After working many years for private media, she decided to experience different paths of the same field; thus she joined Afghanistan government.

After the crisis in Afghanistan, Khalilyar took a flight from Mazar-e-sharif, a northern province in Afghanistan. She was taken to a refugee camp in Qatar and from there, she contacted professors from the University of Oklahoma. She spent three months at a camp in New Jersey and one month in Tulsa before arriving at OU in March 2022.

Khalilyar’s experience in both print and broadcast media, as well as her year of experience with media office of Afghanistan president, made her a good candidate to join Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication. Her interest in pursuing a dgree in international studies convinced both the College of International Studies and Gaylord College to provide her with a scholarship. She shifted from visiting scholar to graduate student.

“I never thought I will find my desired path during the darkest days of my life,” Shabnam says. “Here I find peace and hope. OU inspires me not only work for my future, but it provokes me work harder to bring a positive change in the lives of millions of girls who are deprived from their education right.”

Mehri Rezaee

Mehri Rezaee, PhD

Visiting Scholar, Farzaneh Family Center for Iranian and Persian Gulf Studies


Mehri Rezaee is a visiting scholar from Afghanistan. She holds a doctorate in international law from Allameh Tabatabaei University and a master's degree in international law from Tehran University, Iran. She has taught international law and human rights at the undergraduate and graduate level for over eight years at universities in Afghanistan.

Rezaee served as commissioner and chairwoman of the Ghor Provincial Complaints Commission during the 2018 parliamentary election, and for the 2019 presidential election she served as commissioner and chairwoman at Bamiyan Provincial Complaints Commission.

She has also worked as a human rights, women, and children expert in the office of the second vice president of Afghanistan before the Taliban takeover of Kabul. At the same time, she was working as a researcher at the Holding Group for Afghanistan Institute for Legal Challenges of Afghan Women.

Rezaee's area of expertise is human rights and women’s rights, and she has published several articles on Afghan women’s rights in domestic and foreign journals. The topic of her PhD dissertation was the interaction of the international law system and Afghan law in the fight against human trafficking from Afghanistan. Her master's thesis focused on the most important legal challenges for women in Afghanistan — namely education, violence, and forced marriage.

Rezaee was introduced to the University of Oklahoma through an Iranian friend, Dr. Fatemeh Shams, and she applied to the Scholars at Risk program at The University of Oklahoma. She arrived in the United States on May 25, 2022, and has been taking English courses at the Center for English as a Second Language. The Scholars at Risk program, Dean Scott Fritzen, and Marjan Seirafi-Pour and Joshua Landis of the Farzaneh Family Center worked together to coordinate her visiting scholar position, which was made possible by a generous donation from the Farzaneh family.

During the fall 2022 semester Dr. Rezaee will teach in OU's Persian/Farsi language program as an assistant professor. She will continue her English courses with CESL as well, and hopes to prepare a lecture for students on the interaction of international law and Afghan law in the fight against human trafficking (the subject of her dissertation). She also plans to prepare a speech on the legal foundations of the Hazara genocide in Afghanistan.

From Mehri: "Norman is a beautiful, peaceful and lovely city. I love the University of Oklahoma and my educated, kind and friendly colleagues, and I am very happy to work at this university. I hope that I can have a good and beneficial cooperation with the Department of International Studies and the Iranian Studies Center in this semester."

Masooma Vaezi

Visiting Scholar, Dodge Family College of Arts and Sciences

Masooma Vaezi holds a PhD and master's degree in health education and promotion from Tarbiat Modarres University, Tehran, Iran, and a bachelor's degree in nursing from Medical Science University, Mashhad, Iran.

Before Kabul fell to the Taliban, she was a faculty member and research associate in health and exercise science and social work at Katib University in Kabul, Afghanistan.

All her experience is in the field of health and education both in Iran and Afghanistan. She served as head nurse in Imam Reza Hospital in Mashhad, Iran and health education supervisor in Atiya hospital in Tehran, Iran.  

Similar to other Scholars-at-Risk, Masooma was forced to leave her country after Kabul fell to the Taliban. She first went to Italy, and then by contacting people at University of Oklahoma, she was able to come to Norman.

Masoom describes OU as a new opportunity where she can gain more knowledge and widen her experience.

Myo Win

Myo Win

Visiting Scholar, Dodge Family College of Arts and Sciences


U Myo Win is a husband, father, human rights activist and founder and executive director of a non-governmental organization working to raise silent and moderate voices and ensure social justice for ethnic and religious minorities in Myanmar. He also serves as the team leader of the Interfaith Council of Myanmar and voluntary deputy head of mission of Al-Azhar Islamic Institute of Myanmar. He is a prominent member of the Yangon education and human rights community and has been recognized for his leadership in the facilitation of significant community pursuits.


Born in Yangon in 1978 to a Muslim family, Myo Win was raised in an era of community fear due to the military junta’s policies and personally experienced the injustice of discrimination towards minorities. Persevering despite his own educational restrictions, Myo Win has served as a private tutor for matriculation students and has worked as a facilitator for peace and conflict situations, mediation, team-building, leadership, organizational development, social entrepreneurship, trauma healing and post-traumatic stress (PTSD) for nearly two decades.

In 2007, Myo Win founded SMILE and has served as its executive director and CEO since its inception. Believing that youth are the key to sustaining long-term social and economic development, SMILE invests in the younger generation to become leaders of change by undertaking civic initiatives in their respective communities. Since 2009, SMILE has expanded its reach to youth outside of the education system, women and human rights defenders and broadened its scope of work to include:

  • Legal reform, including drafting and advocating for the interfaith Harmony Bill, which focuses on religious freedom and combatting hate speech and hate crime
  • Research and evidence creation on the challenges faced by religious and ethnic minorities regarding access to housing, citizenship and education, which included a Gap Analysis of the 1982 Citizenship Law
  • Supporting documentary filmmaking on spotlight issues in Myanmar (e.g. gender-based violence) and raising awareness on them internally and externally
  • Initiating and strengthening numerous consortiums and civil society groups at national, regional, and global levels. Including Metta Circle Consortium, Myanmar Civil Society Forum for Peace, Myanmar Peace and Human Rights Consortium, the Regional Consultation Body of the Freedom of Religion or Belief in ASEAN

Myo Win has long been outspoken about the human rights situation in Myanmar and has been invited to speak on these issues on numerous panels across the US and Europe. Most recently, he spoke alongside the Special Rapporteur in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, at Forum Asia’s side event on Human Rights in Myanmar at the UN’s 38th Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Since 2009, he has also conducted research on the challenges faced by religious and ethnic minorities, especially regarding access to housing, citizenship, and education. He is an experienced speaker, having addressed audiences at universities such as Harvard, UC Berkeley and Purdue explaining the situation in Myanmar, and most recently speaking on the identity crisis of ethnic minorities in Myanmar. In 2021, his article “Citizenship Documentation of Myanmar and the Discrimination of Religious and Ethnic Minorities” was published in the edited volume Ethnic and Religious Diversity in Myanmar: Contested Identities (Bloomsbury Academic).


Myo Win studied at a government school in Tharkayta Township, a suburb of Yangon, and obtained his bachelor’s degrees in Islamic Theological Science and psychology of the University of East Yangon. He studied conflict resolution at the University of York, England as a Chevening Fellow.

Accomplishments & Awards


  • 2018 Clyde Snow Social Justice award from the University of Oklahoma
  • 2012 Australia Leadership Award
  • 2010–2012 Director of English Access Micro-Scholarship Program of the U.S. Department of State
  • 2009 Crown of Peace Award from Universal Peace Federation of USA
  • 2008 Chevening Fellowship on Conflict Resolution from York University