With a name that means “a beautiful tree with strong roots,” Banah Ghadbian, C’2015, stands as a proud warrior for social justice whose impact is felt throughout the Spelman College community. A scholar-activist since arriving at Spelman, Ghadbian has brought awareness of global women’s rights, the crises in Syria and Palestine, as well as sexual violence on college campuses. Her passion also shows up around educating individuals about issues of racism and other injustices.
Growing up in a family of activists who fought the political regime in Syria, the Spelman College Class of 2015 valedictorian will tell anyone that her journey has cemented her desire to educate and empower others to be a positive force for change.
“I plan to pursue a doctorate degree in ethnic studies at the University of California at San Diego,” said Ghadbian, a Presidential Scholar and fellow in the Social Justice and Mellon Mays programs with a near-perfect 3.98 grade-point-average. Planning a future that includes teaching, writing, and creating documentaries to raise awareness about global issues, Ghadbian has had her poetry and other works published in various online magazines and print anthologies, such as the Feminist Wire and Passage and Place. “My studies will allow me to study race and ethnicity and document marginalized people on their terms to create ethical community change,” she said.
A native of Fayetteville, Arkansas, the comparative women’s studies and sociology double major has spent much of her life speaking out against social and political injustices. Known for her viral YouTube videos where she boldly protests against the Syrian regime, Ghadbian spends her summers volunteering at a Syrian refugee social services center in Amman, Jordan, while working to raise awareness about the plight of Syrian and Palestinian refugee women. Ghadbian even recalls the summer when, as a high school senior, she and her mother fled from the Syrian-Turkish border upon learning their lives were in danger for helping organize political conferences for the opposition.
Two weeks later, she walked through Spelman’s gates as a first-year student.
For Ghadbian, Spelman was an ideal choice. Growing up in what she describes as a racist, narrow-minded community where she felt marginalized due to people’s misunderstanding of her ethnicity and racial identity, Ghadbian wanted to attend a college that would celebrate and inspire her as a young woman of color, and help nourish her activist aspirations.
“My mom encouraged me to apply because she heard so many great things about Spelman, especially the College’s commitment to social justice,” said Ghadbian, who is currently documenting Syrian women’s resistance as part of her senior thesis and Mellon Mays research. “Now that I’m about to graduate, I realize how special Spelman is for people to grow and be themselves.”
While at Spelman, this Phi Beta Kappa and Alpha Lambda Delta member’s activism has taken center stage. She’s led projects to raise awareness about the Syrian refugee crisis; organized Denim Day activities to combat sexual violence on college campuses; established the Atlanta University Center Students for Justice in Palestine; challenged misogynistic music lyrics and music played at Market Friday; and co-founded the Women Against Violence Brigade, a student organization that advocates against issues of discrimination. She is also an active member of the Toni Cade Bambara Scholar-Activist-Writer’s Collective hosted by the Women’s Research and Resource Center, and has helped plan the annual conference each spring.
Cynthia Neal Spence, Ph.D., C’78, associate professor of sociology, director of the Spelman College Social Justice Fellows Program and director of the UNCF Mellon Programs, praised Ghadbian’s activism, describing her as a brilliant, intellectually gifted young woman who is making a choice to change the world.
“Banah’s love for scholarly engagement and critical analysis is readily apparent as she shares her intellectual and personal passions and as she engages texts and her fellow Spelman sisters and professors in class,” said Dr. Spence. “I have no doubt that she will distinguish herself as an intellectual thought leader and well regarded scholar activist. She will continue to make us all proud.”