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Salma Shitia '18

One of Salma's referees wrote, "Ms. Shitia is a young woman of great merit and accomplishment. She has all the intellectual tools, life experiences, interpersonal warmth, and savvy to warrant the honor and acclaim that comes with this most prestigious award."

The Class of 1964 JFK Award winner for 2018 is Salma Shitia, Art and Sciences graduate in Near Eastern Studies with minors in Arabic, History and Jewish Studies. Born and raised in Connecticut, Salma is an Egyptian-American who has shown her commitment to advancing the rights of refugees nationally and internationally. Pursuing a career in clinical legal education at Georgetown Law, Salma hopes to continue her work in public service. The award fund will help to cover expenses incurred during her summer internships and other costs related to her public interest legal education.

Salma believes that understanding and exploring context, history and language are prerequisites to meaningful public service. She remains determined to acquire as much knowledge as possible in these areas in order to make the most effective, just change possible while ensuring that those individuals with the relevant identities remain at the forefront of the movement for refugee rights. She writes, "The refugee crisis is not new. It has been exacerbated with new identifies, countries and regions being added by the day, despite many refugees being offered rights of return by international courts and bodies. Only by reflecting on history, making ourselves accountable for our actions, and acknowledging those we are complacent [about], can we even begin to take a step in the right direction."

As the founder of Cornell Welcomes Refugees, a group dedicated to refugee advocacy, philanthropy and awareness, Salma has interacted with numerous individuals seeking asylum in Ithaca. She has also held leadership roles as President of the Arab Student Association; student liaison to the downtown non-profit Ithaca Welcomes Refugees; translator-interpreter with the Cornell Law School International Refugee Assistance Project; legal intern for the Law School's Labor Law Clinic; Residential Advisor for the Arabic Language House; Research and Teaching Assistant in the Near Eastern Studies Department; and Executive Board Member of the Meinig Family Cornell National Scholars. She is a member of Mortar Board der Hexenkreis, Phi Beta Kappa, and Quill and Dagger.

Salma receiving the award from '64 classmates Dick Church, Carolyn Neuman, Mike Newman and Lois Heikkila Gosse

Outside Cornell, Salma served as a legal intern for the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection and as an intern for Bamyan Media in post-revolutionary Egypt, promoting social entrepreneurship. She attended the 16th Annual Beirut Exchange to meet with prominent Middle East representatives to better understand regional politics.

Salma's goal is to work as a lawyer while supervising law students pursuing pro bono work in labor, immigration and asylum. This career track will provide free legal consultation and representation for those who cannot afford it, experience for law students aspiring to a public service career, and further educational opportunities for Salma as she learns from her students.


Salma's award featured in a Near Eastern Studies website.

Read Salma's interview about her Cornell experience.