Smith Scholar Determined to Write the Stories That Must Be Told

Aman Madan '19

Aman Madan '19

Aman Madan doesn't have his career path set, but he knows this:

He will write.

He will tell stories the world should hear: About the plight of lower caste Hindus in India; South Asian migrant workers in the Middle East; Syrian refugees in Jordan, and the rise of Fascism across the globe.

"I don't know what else I can do but write about it," Madan '19 said. "We've lost sight of how powerful the written word can be -- I don't ever want to stop writing."

Madan, a Terry Leadership Scholar, has won Davidson College's 2019 W. Thomas Smith Scholarship and plans to spend a year studying and writing in Europe. He'll attend the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) University of London, where he'll focus on South Asian studies. He'll concentrate on contemporary Muslim belonging in the subcontinent.

The award resembles other prestigious post-graduate scholarships, such as the Rhodes and Fulbright, and fully funds a student for two semesters at a university outside of the United States.

The Smith scholarship recognizes a student with a history of outstanding academic achievement, leadership and community service. Madan founded Davidson Refugee Support and helped lead an initiative to bring Syrian students to the college. In 2018, he won a Harry S. Truman Scholarship.

"I consider myself very lucky to have worked with Aman. He's one of the best students I've ever had," said Sarah Waheed, an assistant professor of history at Davidson. "He's hard-working and so curious about the world. He's as compassionate as he is intelligent. He's a very kind human being."

Though Madan has traveled extensively, it will be his first time in Europe and he's looking forward to immersing himself in London's vibrant South Asian community.

Madan developed significant global chops while spending a year abroad, studying at the American University in Beirut in 2017. That year, he also won a Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting fellowship and spent the summer interviewing, photographing and writing about Syrian refugees.

"It was a transformative experience. Being in the Middle East taught me how to speak to people, and be unabashed in my questions," Madan said. "I was falling in love with people's stories, and how they shared them."

He met a man lured to the region on the promise of a package company job that instead turned out to be garbage collecting. The man's employer forced him to give up his passport, paid him far less than promised, and wouldn't let him return home for his sister's wedding without paying to get his passport back.

Madan was riding a bus in a wealthy area of Beirut one day when he saw a group of South Asian migrants crouched outside the garbage collection center where they worked.

"It was like they caged themselves -- like animals," he said. "If that's not modern slavery, I don't know what is. It still strikes me, that they look just like me, but I have an American passport and I speak English."

Madan's Hindu grandparents were refugees of the 1947 Indian Partition, which divided India into two separate countries, India and Pakistan. India became a Hindu majority, and Pakistan, largely Muslim. The separation displaced millions of people, and violent clashes followed.

Madan's parents immigrated to the United States, where his father worked many jobs before eventually starting his own jewelry business. His parents miss India and, now that he's graduating, hope to move back to be with their family and friends.

They worry that his writing could make him a target of the powerful people it criticizes. He doesn't discount their fears, but says he needs to show people what's really going on. He considered moving to India to work for a newspaper, but the Smith scholarship changed that course.

He plans to get his master's degree, and eventually a doctoral degree, and has thought seriously about becoming an academic. Or he may work for a major international publication. Or both.

Whichever route he takes, he intends to keep writing stories that must be told.