NEC on Trump’s travel ban: where do we go from here?

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The Simon Great Room was full of concerned students, faculty, and staff on February 1st, merely three days after President Trump’s travel ban, an executive order aimed at “protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States,” went into affect. Students sat in rows, casually speaking to one another, and some stragglers stood in the back, but all had the same expression of confusion, awe, and even anger.

Wayne Lesperance, Dean of Undergraduate Residential Programs, Professor of Political Science, Public Policy MA Program Director, and Co-Director of the Center for Community Engagement and Leadership, sat as mediator in the front of the room, along with Jason Buck, Associate Dean of Students and Director of the International Program, and Fran Chelland, Associate Dean for Liberal Arts Education. They called the community meeting to help clarify the situation for students, both international and domestic, and spark a public dialogue in which concerned parties could air their confusion, thoughts, and opinions in a productive environment.

“This is a time for citizens. Whatever your view point is, you have a responsibility to get involved and be informed,” said Lesperance at the beginning of the discussion.

Chelland echoed this statement, continuing with “we may have differences in opinion, but there’s a certain place in which we have to hear each other before we can move forward.”

Though the audience participation was mostly one-sided, coming from those in opposition to the executive order, the topics discussed were pertinent to the NEC community. Although there are no NEC students from any of the banned countries, according to Lesperance, “it has actively impacted members of our community.”

One such member is Professor of Business Ali Reza Jalili, whose brother and family were scheduled to move to the U.S. from Iran on the 29th and were stopped in the airport because of the new ban. Jalili, who came to the U.S. for the first time in 1975, could not believe it. During an interview with him, he said he had told his brother, who had hesitation about booking the flight after the inauguration, that Donald Trump would not do anything like he claimed because “the United States’ society is a society governed by rule of law, so no matter what, even if you are president, you cannot break that law.” 

The law he was referring to is the contract between visa holders and the United States’ government. “The only way that you can be denied,” he had told his brother, “is if you lied there somewhere, or you get caught murdering somebody or something… Ottravel ban summaryher than that, even God cannot take away your visa.”

“I felt embarassed,” he said about after the ban went into affect. “[like there was] an egg on my face.”

Luckily, when United States District Court Judge Allison D. Burroughs issued a temporary restraining order halting the travel ban, Jalili’s family was able to enter the U.S.

While Lesperance mentioned Jalili as a colleague effected by the order, Jalili was unable to attend the community discussion because he was meeting with a lawyer and a reporter from The Boston Globe, who later wrote about Jalili’s family’s experience.

Other members of the community were concerned as well; Buck mentioned a student who was worried about having to choose between her education and going back home to get married.

“Pieces are moving so fast right now, I can’t tell [concerned students] it will be fine,” he said. “I can tell them it will probably be fine.”

One student raised the question of how the travel ban will effect Spring Break trips, to which Lesperance replied, “There’s nothing out there that says an American citizen cannot travel to Ireland or Rome…at this point I don’t think there’s anything to worry about.”

The future and whether or not it will have a noticeable impact on the students of NEC, however, is still uncertain.

The issue regarding Trump and his administration, according to Lesperance, is that “he is the most unpredictable president we’ve ever had.” While there are people out in the world that mean to harm Americans, the worry is that Trump will extend the amount of countries affected by the ban, and do so in a hasty fashion, much like this ban was put into place, thus impacting even those who wish to come to America for traditional reasons such as chasing the freedom America is said to offer.

This uncertainty effects not only NEC, whose student populace increasingly becomes more diverse, but colleges all around the country who view America as a wonderful opportunity for growth, especially for immigrants. “The whole point of a college or university is that we have access to different points of view,” said Lesperance.

In order for these points of view to continue to contribute and add culture to America, there needs to be action and participation in exercising our democratic rights.

This point was brought to light when Chemistry Professor Sachi Howard stood in front of the audience in the Great Room and said: “I came down here to see what we are going to do. I’m not here to just sit and listen and talk and discuss, I want to see what we are going to do. There are two sides: one will be talking about how to protect ourselves, make sure our students are safe, whether you are traveling abroad or not, and making sure we support each other and those unfortunate among us to get caught in this situation, to offer kind words or say ‘there, there.’ And I don’t think that’s enough.”

Colleges across the country are taking up arms against this executive order. Some, such as Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, have taken to the courts and sued Donald Trump for threatening their “ability to educate tomorrow’s leaders from around the world.” NEC’s own President, Michelle Perkins, had been communicating with NH senators on the subject, advocating for the values that NEC holds dear.

In an email in which Perkins personally invited students, faculty, and staff to the community discussion, some of these values were outlined:

“We are a caring, collaborative community, and we respect the varied qualities of individuals, no matter where they are from. We are proud to serve over 400 international students who seek knowledge, education, and the highest levels of personal and professional success. We have, and will continue to welcome any person committed to the values of the College.”

While NEC, and many other institutions across this country, has taken a stance, it was stressed, however, that individuals too can play a big role in changing the course of this order.

While emails are generally ignored, according to Lesperance, writing notes to members of your local government and telling them your views and concerns can potentially have an impact because they are always documented, thus allowing parties to see what the people really want.

On a smaller scale, “A kind word from a classmate, from a colleague, from a friend, will go a long way.” 

Despite the fact that NEC has no students from the listed countries, Buck said “right now [the U.S.] doesn’t feel very welcoming. Part of the future is making sure they feel valued and important, and doing what we can to support them.”

The first step to doing that, according to Chelland, is to “get past the fog of words that’s out there” and look past the speculations on your news feed. “Don’t question the other person, question yourself.”

The next step is to reach out–whether it be to your local government, or to the NEC community–and advocate for what it means to be a member of NEC and a member of the United States.

“We want to reaffirm our values,” said Lesperance. “Reaffirm our one ship.”

 

 

 

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Alyssa graduated from New England College in May of 2017. She was the Editor in Chief of the NewEnglander for two years,since her sophomore year. She enjoys reading, writing, and practically anything that involves the arts, including (and especially) the art of cuisine. When she's not slaving away at the computer for her various newspaper responsibilities, she loves to be outside, enjoying the (mostly) beautiful New Hampshire weather. She will complete her MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts.
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