Everyone is talking about the impact of the Executive Order from Trump to ban citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S.
The big tragedy is, of course, families who are unable to be reunited. But, universities are also affected, and people are trying to do what they can to express their disagreement with the executive order: Arab students are unable to go back to their campuses. In solidarity, some academics are considering boycotting U.S. conferences. Several institutions are considering moving conferences to other places. For example, Digital Pedagogy Lab is considering creating an event in Canada for international colleagues just to be safe because anything can happen. Because America today is suddenly different for Muslims than it was 10 years ago. I almost wanted to apologize for causing this inconvenience (being one of the keynote speakers and teachers in this event, being from a Muslim country, while not currently banned, could someday be) but, of course, I didn’t and wouldn’t, and I know no one wants anyone to apologize. My friend recently told my kid, “I’m sorry my country is being so bad to people from your part of the world.”
I want to remind everyone to keep the broader perspective on this. The tragedy here is people who are separated from their families and their homes. Nothing dramatic will happen to international scholars if they miss a conference. It’s unfair and a problem, but not the biggest problem. Conferences can and should embrace virtual presenters (I wrote some tips here) and consider involving Virtually Connecting. Sure.
But, just so you know, for conferences, people like me from visa undesirable countries are used to things:
- We’re used to long and complicated visa application processes that ask us about every move we made in the past 10 years and every penny we plan to spend when we get to their country.
- We are used to waiting weeks for our visas to arrive.
- Visas get refused or don’t arrive. This hasn’t happened to me before, but it has happened to many people I know including my spouse. It happens between Muslim countries. As in citizens from one Muslim country can have difficulty entering another Muslim country.
- I personally am used to getting “randomly” checked on 50 percent of our trips to the West. Define random. Or, is it a random selection of Muslim-looking people?
- We are used to getting patted down in demeaning ways. In UK airports they put their hands inside my underwear while patting me down. The first time I was outraged but didn’t make a scene because my 2-year-old was getting distressed just by looking at my face. The second time, I just stood there and pretended I didn’t notice what they were doing. I know.
- Friends of mine who are dual nationality, who carry European passports, get detained at airports and miss their connecting flights. This was during the Obama administration.
- Canadian friends of mine born in Canada recently got questioned at the Canadian border simply because they look brown and are coming in from Egypt. That’s right. I said Canada. Not the U.S. Born in Canada. Not Egypt. Not Iran or Iraq or Syria.
No one from my part of the world will bat an eye if their visa to the U.S. gets refused. This happened to almost everyone immediately post 9/11. No one will bat an eye if they get treated weirdly in airports. That’s, like, normal. Not that we should accept it or anything. It just is. And, we rise above it because we have a goal to achieve wherever we are going and we want to get on with it.
What’s new here is people who already have valid entry into the U.S. getting refused entry. People whose homes and families are in the U.S. being unable to reach those homes and families. That’s tragic and those are the people we should be focusing on. One piece of good news is that the White House backtracked on freezing entry for green card holders. But, a large number of students and U.S. employees are on more precarious visas and still at risk. People we know (from outside the specific countries covered by the Executive Order) have been advised not to leave the U.S. lest they be refused re-entry.
Do what you can to help. Protests and helping though the law will make a difference. And, here in my Chronicle of Higher Education article, are some ideas for how to help individuals around you on a daily basis. From the article:
Change the way you teach, says Sean Michael Morris. Promoting intercultural competence can go a long way. Some ideas:
- Find ways to nurture tolerance and acceptance and even empathy for the “other” in your teaching. Advocate for social justice. Even if it doesn’t seem to fit your course subject matter. We can brainstorm this.
- Find ways to expose your students to “other” people whether directly or through their writing or videos or other material.
- Direct interaction, in my opinion, works best, but I know isn’t always possible in every context. Check out cultural dialogue exchange ideas like Soliya.
- Influence people around you. Talk to neighbors and family members who may not realize the extent of the impact of this.
Banner image credit: tani.P