Times they are a-changin’. As a kid, I was enamored with the music of the 1960s. I spent hours listening to my dad’s three-album set from Woodstock. I consumed the liner notes. I read every word and pondered every lyric. Although Dylan didn’t play Woodstock, I wanted to understand what it was about those times that were a-changin’.
Now I live in times that are rapidly changing – changing in ways that make supporting student success ever more essential. President Trump’s Executive Orders ban the issuing of visas to people holding passports from seven predominantly Muslim countries for 90 days, ban refugee entrance into the U.S. for 120 days with the exception of Christian refugees, and fully halts Syrian refugee entrance until further notice. These directives have been issued from the highest office of the United States and send a message to the world.
People in the U.S. disagree with the content of that message. Some argue these directives secure American borders. Others argue they are illegal, unconstitutional, serve as a de-facto ban on Muslims, and are counter to American values. Irrespective of your political position, these Orders have real impacts on students, scholars, and their families.
I grew up in the U.S., lived in Germany during reunification, in Canada during the first Obama presidency and the Maple Spring in Quebec, and currently live in the U.S. Living abroad has provided me with a perspective of my home country that I would not have otherwise. Although I may have a different perspective, I am not alone in my concern for the safety and security of the more than 100,000 students from the Middle East and 17,000 from the banned countries who are studying in the United States, most of whom are Muslim. More than 7,000 U.S. faculty members have signed the petition, Academics Against Immigration Executive Order.
There is strength in the number of individuals who have spoken out. There is strength in national associations taking a stand.
“Our nation’s universities are enriched and strengthened by the talent, insight, and culture that international students, faculty, researchers, and staff bring. . . . We are also concerned that this decision adds great uncertainty to international students, researchers, and others who might consider coming to our campuses.”
I am heartened by Universities Canada’s statement, particularly given the fact that commenting on the executive orders of another country is highly atypical.
“The executive order restricting travel into the U.S. affects research partnerships, international studies, academic conference participation, field visits and in some cases family relationships of our university students, faculty and staff. The new order is having an impact on Canadian campuses and communities that is real, immediate and profound. . . . Canada’s universities continue to welcome students, faculty and staff from around the world, including those seeking refuge from violence and hardship.”
I take comfort in these statements. But comfort is just that comfortable. More than anything, I must act.
I must act within my sphere of influence to support our international students, particularly those from the seven banned countries, as they may become targets of discrimination despite possessing a visa to study in the United States.
I must support Muslim students. I fear these Executive Orders may result in xenophobic actions. This is not an unwarranted fear given the number of hate crimes that have been registered since the U.S. Presidential election.
I must support American students of all faiths, religious traditions, and worldviews. Specifically, given my position as Head of the Department of Education and the department’s mandate to educate pre-service teachers, I must provide opportunities for our students to learn about the rich religious and worldview diversity that characterizes America.
I must support the young kids in elementary school whose parent traveled to present at an academic conference and are not permitted back in the U.S. because they hold a passport from one of the seven banned countries. How do we, as educators, support these kids?
I have to start somewhere. I have to give action to my “must support” statements. This is what I have chosen to do.
- I will affirm in my weekly communication to the Department’s students, staff, and faculty that we are a Department that values the humanity of each of our students. Part of honoring humanity is by listening to understand. Education is based on the premise that we bring an openness of mind to listen deeply, contribute thoughtfully, and respect unconditionally. I will provide information where to report any acts of discrimination, intimidation, and violence.
- I will create opportunities for our faculty, staff, and pre-service teachers to learn about different religious traditions and worldviews. Specifically, I am working to introduce our students to our local Islamic Center only a few blocks from campus. Additionally, there is a series available through NASPA that will focus on Hindu beliefs (live cast January 26 with recording available February 2) and Sikh beliefs (February 15). My goal is that by learning about other religious traditions and worldviews that our pre-service teachers, graduate students who are school and post-secondary leaders, staff, and faculty will be more prepared to support students from a variety of faith traditions.
- I will encourage our community to engage civically, not just every four years when there is an election but regularly. As educators, there are policies discussed on a nearly daily basis that affect our work. Educators need to know about and comment on public policy that affects their ability to support every student’s success, like President Trump’s recent seven-country immigration ban and refugee suspension. To that end, I am sharing information about legislative bills and policies currently under discussion and how to contact elected officials to register comment.
I recognize these actions only scratch the surface but I believe small actions can make a difference. To that end, I’d like to learn about the small or large actions you are doing to support international students, Muslim students, and students on your campus who could benefit from learning more about the world’s rich religious and worldview diversity. Please “leave a comment” and share your ideas. We are stronger together.
Tricia Seifert is Associate Professor and Department Head of Education at Montana State University. She also maintains a faculty appointment at the University of Toronto. She is the PI on the Supporting Student Success research study.