Stating our values
By Laura Grimm
President Trump’s executive order on Jan. 27 banned non-diplomatic entry for citizens of seven countries.
After the order was signed, both Minnesota State Chancellor Steven Rosenstone and MSUM President Anne Blackhurst released statements regarding the order’s implications.
“In light of the recent Executive Order affecting international students, faculty, and staff from specified countries, I am writing to reaffirm MSUM’s commitment to creating and maintaining a safe and welcoming environment for all,” Blackhurst wrote.
Blackhurst felt it was necessary to remind the campus of MSUM’s values.
“The university’s practice is not to discriminate against anyone on the basis of religion or nationality or immigration status,” Blackhurst said. “It just seemed important to affirm those commitments, and if people have questions about the university’s position on those issues, to make that clear.”
Sophomore Rahil Pereira, an international student from India, praised Blackhurst’s decision to address the executive ban.
“I think President Blackhurst made a good move by releasing a statement regarding the executive order,” Pereira said. “I commend her stance on reinforcing MSUM’s values of fostering community spirit and welcoming students regardless of race, nationality or religion.”
A statement from the president is rare, but there is a possibility that releasing statements will become more common.
“I put out two so far (this year): one immediately following the election and then the one following the executive order,” Blackhurst said. “I can’t remember how many I put out of that nature in the previous two years in my presidency, but I think it was less than two. It’s hard to predict the future, but I would say in this timeframe since November, it’s felt like there’s been a greater need to be clear about the university’s position on certain things.”
Rosenstone echoed these sentiments in his own statement.
“In light of the heightened national immigration debate over recent days and weeks, I want to underscore our steadfast commitment to ensuring that our campuses will remain safe and welcoming places of inclusion, hope and opportunity for all students and employees,” Rosenstone said.
It is even rarer for the chancellor of the Minnesota State system to release statements to students.
“We actually had a conference call and discussed as a group what we thought was the right approach,” Blackhurst said. “As a group, we decided that each campus would feel like it needed to hear from its own president, but that we would also appreciate a message on behalf of the system, so that’s why there was that two-tiered approach.”
Despite the content of her statement, Blackhurst does not want it to be interpreted as a political attack against Trump or his policies.
“I’ve heard from students who feel marginalized on our campus because they supported President Trump; they support his policies and positions, and they feel like that puts them in a marginalized group on our campus,” Blackhurst said. “As a president, I want to be sensitive to that, and I don’t want to do anything that intensifies that, but I also want to support our international students and support our commitment to welcoming all students regardless of their religion or their nationality.”
There is not a high percentage of MSUM international students from the seven countries listed in the executive order. However, Blackhurst has noticed its effects on students and faculty regardless.
“What I’ve seen on social media and heard from our staff is more general discouragement and disillusionment from many of our international students,” Blackhurst said. “Many of them came to America because they have a vision of America’s openness to people from other countries and our commitment to non-discrimination, and I think whether it’s accurate or not or whether it was intended or not, I think the executive order felt very personal to many of our international students.”
Pereira agrees that the order has personally affected one group in particular.
“I think it has had a deep impact on the Muslim students and has been conducive to making them feel more unwelcome and alienated than ever before,” Pereira said.
However, the executive order has not affected just Muslim students; it has created a sense of worry among international students as a whole.
“Trump’s travel ban has caused quite a stir within the international student population at MSUM,” Pereira said. “Many students are wondering about the future status of their visas and are talking about changing their plans over summer break to avoid leaving the country in fear of visas getting revoked.”
Blackhurst credits the presidential transition period, especially all the changes it brings, for many students’ concerns.
“I certainly understand why students would be concerned even if they’re from countries that are not on the list because I understand why it feels like things are literally shifting moment to moment,” Blackhurst said.
The executive order was halted by U.S. District Judge James L. Robart, but Trump is in the process of appealing the decision. The executive order does mention the possibility of other countries being affected by the ban.
“At any point after submitting the list described in subsection (e) of this section, the Secretary of State or the Secretary of Homeland Security may submit to the President the names of any additional countries recommended for similar treatment,” Trump wrote in Section 3f of the order.
Blackhurst does not believe that the ban, if reinstated, will affect citizens of other countries. However, she believes the possibility makes potential international students anxious.
“If you were thinking of going to study in a particular country that had suddenly implemented some practices that were kind of a deviation from past practices, you would not want to get stuck somewhere or stuck in-between, so those kinds of anxieties are definitely out there,” Blackhurst said.
Pereira agrees that fears may impact potential international students.
“In the long run, this kind of rhetoric is only going to deter foreigners from seeking an American college education, which is going to hurt a university system that is becoming increasingly reliant on foreign student dollars,” Pereira said.
The executive order would also lengthen the process of obtaining a visa to study in the United States. Trump proposed several steps he hopes will keep potential terrorists from obtaining visas.
These include in-person interviews, an identity documents database, identity checks, new questions and surveys of intentions.
Blackhurst feels that as president, it is her duty to issue more statements in the future when necessary.
To Pereira, statements from Blackhurst have a positive effect, but they can only do so much.
“I do believe that even though it has been a good move to open up dialogue about the executive order, in reality, it does not do a lot to console many international students and their fears,” Pereira said.