Political Sociology, Undergraduate Courses

SA 325 students meet the man who spent seven months in an airport

March 04, 2021

What might a course in political sociology entail at Simon Fraser University? In SA 325 - Political Sociology, a third year undergraduate course, it involves a series of weekly readings and discussions around topics on borders, migration, global financial crises, social movements and state economic powers. Often students engage in a class discussion on the readings and write a series of reflections followed by a term paper to complete the course. What makes the course special however is the ability to invite experts, guest speakers and individuals outside of the university to our classroom to provide real-world experiences of the topics we cover. While the pandemic has forced us in to an online environment, it has not prevented our ability to engage with the world.

During the current spring term, our online class was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to discuss and engage in topics beyond academic works. On February 22, we invited Hassan Al Kontar, to speak to our class about his experience as a Syrian refugee caught in the system of displacement. His raw and heart wrenching story of being treated by authorities from several different countries as less-than-human, experiences with systemic discrimination and human rights violations, brought insight to our conception of what it means to become a refugee in the 21st century.

Our instructor, May Hen-Smith, discovered Hassan’s story a few years ago through news outlets such as CBC (2018) and learned more about his story by following him on Twitter. Caught in the systems of displaced people, Hassan Al Kontar, a Syrian refugee, found himself stuck in a Malaysian airport for 7 months unable to leave without facing persecution back home or to travel elsewhere because his nationality was blacklisted by most airlines and countries.

He has since been sponsored by a Canadian group and now lives in Vancouver working for the Red Cross. SA 325 students took the time to reflect on how real-world issues colour their experience with the academic texts they consume, often without opportunity for consideration of real-life experiences. Below is a glimpse of the students' responses to his experiences and links to the literature we are engaging with on borders and migration.