wait a moment

Critique of a Changed Rhetoric

Disclaimer: Due to the publishing nature of a bi-weekly paper, this piece’s relevance has changed since it was originally drafted.

(Feb 5) President Jordan sent a subsequent email to the one that this article focuses on. It is titled “Your Voice.” It addresses many of the concerns outlined below.

(Feb 4) I spoke with Dean Brown after submitting a draft of my editorial to him. Here are his on the record statements: “We have researching to try and find students who may be directly impacted by the executive order and we are reaching out to individuals as we are made aware. We will continue to monitor the situation as it develops. The primary focus of President Jordan’s email was not a statement directly about the ban but rather to show support to students who may be impacted.”

The President of the United States, Donald Trump, has shown that he does not grasp the realities of terrorism and immigration. Using an executive order, he imposed travel restrictions on immigrants and travelers from seven majority Muslim nations, as well as an “indefinite” halting of Syrian refugees. This is a counterproductive measure. A study from the CATO Institute, a libertarian think-tank, showed the majority of terrorist threats come from domestic individuals, not by immigrants. That same study was quoted in an article from The Atlantic, which states: “nationals of the seven countries singled out by Trump have killed zero people in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil between 1975 and 2015 […] zero Americans have been killed by Syrian refugees in a terrorist attack in the United States.” Syrian refugees are, arguably, the people who need America’s open arms the most. Their cities have been destroyed, their families have been separated, and they are simply looking for sanctuary amongst the complete chaos.

St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM)’s president, Tuajuanda Jordan, sent out an email in regards to Trump’s executive action. The body of the message reads in its entirety:

“In light of the recent Executive Order issued by the President of the United States on January 27, 2017, there is much confusion and concern about the impact this order may have on some of us individually as well as on our entire St. Mary’s College community. Please know that the College will work to provide you our support and the best services we have at our disposable (sic) to the extent possible as defined by the laws of our State and of this nation.”

At face value, this email is not noteworthy. That is the problem. SMCM is a tight-knit community, with a relatively progressive worldview. We pride ourselves on our subscription to the St. Mary’s Way. We are a community “where people are committed to examining and shaping the functional, ethical values of our changing world […] where people contribute to a spirit of caring.” In my experience attending this school, President Jordan has adhered to the St. Mary’s Way in every instance of public communication. I feel this email was a break from that norm. By not expressly condemning Trump’s executive order, our school is complacent in its existence. The acknowledgment of this unethical Order without opposition signifies to me that this school has neglected its commitment to “examining and shaping” our world.

I was surprised to see that President Jordan’s email made no mention of any specific steps the college would take to combat this atrocious executive order. I would expect our administrative response to at least rival that of other universities. The comparisons between our campus and much larger ones are obviously indirect. However, it is certainly valid to contrast Dr. Jordan’s statement with those of her peers. While SMCM does not, to my knowledge, currently have any students enrolled barred from admission to the country, the rhetoric of our leader towards the situation speaks loudly about our character as a college. President Tony Frank of Colorado State University sent the following sentiments to his campus:

“This has obviously been a rather tumultuous weekend across our nation as we strive to understand and respond to the impact of President Trump’s Executive Order on Travel Restrictions […] we are also actively engaged with our national organizations such as APLU (The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities), providing them the data needed to help make the broader case in support of all of our international, DACA, and ASSET students. Our collective voices have great strength, and we intend to harness that strength for our students […] (I) stress our unwavering support for our students.”

His full statement can be read here. I believe that this message and rhetoric is something admirable, which we should strive to emulate.

President Wallace Loh of University of Maryland (College Park) stated that:

“University of Maryland does not normally take stands on political issues. However, we have an obligation to speak out when government actions are fundamentally antithetical to the core values and missions of the institution, especially when they adversely impact many members of our community.” Dr. Loh continued to outline specific actions that the school would take to protect its students such as: “ […] not [releasing] information on immigration status of our students unless required by law […] not [sharing] student information with Immigration and Custom(s) Enforcement (ICE) officials without a court order […] not [permitting] ICE officials to enter campus buildings to search for undocumented persons unless they have a warrant or absent exigent circumstances […] UMD police will not partner with ICE officials to assist with immigration enforcement activities […] UMD police will not detain, question, or arrest any individual solely on the basis of his or her undocumented status.”

Similar sentiments are expressed in messages drafted by University of Florida President W. Kent Fuchs, Bennington College President Mariko Silver, University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan, University of Mary Washington President Troy Paino and Clemson President James Clements. These statements were sent to me by my friends enrolled at the previously mentioned universities. They were proud to share their administration’s responses, rightfully so.

As a student of St. Mary’s, I would like to know that those residing amongst us, who are affected in any manner by this ban, will be protected. I would like to be assured that the administration, whose paycheck is funded by my tax dollars and my tuition, share similar sentiments of the need for compassion. Instead of those desires, what we got was two sentences, 84 words, of nothingness.

I was not alone in my thoughts on this matter. One student wished to remain anonymous, but nevertheless have their voice heard. They stated “As a person of color, [President Jordan’s] email did not make me feel safe. I do not believe the email was written with care and as a school built on religious tolerance these ideas are important to the student body”

Another student, also wishing to remain anonymous took their feelings even further. “that the email was poorly constructed, and [it] left a lot of people feeling unprotected by their school. This email is just another reason why I believe the administration has a poor relationship with the student body. The message seemed rushed and inconsiderate, and this is not the first time I have used those words to describe the administration. Considering how people of color and women have been treated in the past on this campus, I think it would have been better if they had not said anything at all.”

In an all faculty email, which I obtained through a source who wishes to remain anonymous, St. Mary’s Professor of Spanish and Latin American Studies, Dr. Rogachevsky told Dr. Jordan “I am disconcerted by the message you sent out last night to the campus community in response to President Trump’s Executive Order of 1/27. The language of the message would not give comfort to anyone in our community that feels directly threatened by an Executive Order that has been widely condemned, and would also not encourage any such person to seek assistance from the College. The lack of engagement with the ethical failings of the Executive Order would likewise give no comfort to those of us who are appalled as we watch the legal and ethical underpinnings of U.S. society trampled.”

All colleges and universities must stand together in opposition to President Trump’s action. As stated by the president of Boston College, William P. Leahy “This [Executive] Order undermines a key strength of our higher education system, as it turns away talented faculty and students who seek to immigrate to the United States. For decades, colleges and universities in America have benefited from such individuals, and our nation has enjoyed the fruits of having the world’s greatest post-secondary education system.”

In order to preserve the integrity of the American educational system, our leadership must forcefully push back against this executive order.

Our college President’s email was written to not offend anyone, which is easy to do when nothing is said. Without concrete initiatives, it is difficult to tell if the administration would agree with my position: I firmly believe that Trump’s immigration ban is unethical and goes against American values. My stance on it crosses party lines. Fortune.com reports “At least 20 Republicans have spoken out against President Donald Trump’s executive order.” Furthermore, Reuters reports that “less than one-third of Americans believe the move makes them “more safe.” According to that same article, the plurality of Americans are undecided on their feelings towards the ban. This is a time for our leadership to guide us towards what is just.

This is a problem which people from all political backgrounds must stand together to address. Simon Kolbeck expressed his point of view to me. He explains: “Trump’s ban is not only egregious, xenophobic, and unconstitutional, but it also violates everything that America stands for. Thousands of innocent people are being turned away simply because of their heritage and if Republicans in Congress and the Senate do not stand up to this incredible injustice then they are betraying their promise to uphold the constitution and the ideals America was founded on. This is a nation of immigrants and religious freedoms and it seems as though we have forgotten this.”

The situation is not one to be taken lightly.

I realize that there are unseen complexities of administrative communications. The desire to remain apolitical is understandable. In an article from the Philadelphia Inquirer, Barmak Nassirian, the director of federal relations and policy analysis for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities explains “they [college presidents] are walking a very thin line between advocacy on behalf of a whole range of issues that at least appear threatened and at the same time showing due regard and respect to the office of the president and attempting not to alienate an incoming administration.”

I get that this is obviously a difficult thing to address. My comprehension, however, does not equate to acceptance. This email is a break from the norm. Historically, President Jordan has been unapologetic in her support of human rights and decency. This email strayed off course from that trend. I urge President Jordan to substantiate her claim that the administration will “provide you our support and the best services we have at our [disposal]” by making public promises of how they will do that. Additionally, St. Mary’s College of Maryland should lead the charge in having the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges (COPLAC) follow the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) lead towards combatting this executive action in the higher education.

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