President Donald Trump’s executive order last week repudiated the core values of interfaith understanding, compassion and coexistence that ought to guide the university — and the country.
The ban indefinitely suspends the resettlement of Syrian refugees and temporarily bars nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. In the hours following Trump’s announcement, University President John J. DeGioia issued a statement far more understated than other peer institutions, contending the “implications of this order are significant and concerning” but otherwise offering no direct renunciation of Trump’s action.
Moreover, the university offered little direction to students other than linking them to a frequently asked questions page online and recommending community members from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen to avoid travel outside the United States over the next months.
Trump’s action represents an assault on immigrants, Muslims and members of the Georgetown community. As such, it demands more than muted tones of indignation from the university administration.
By acknowledging the ban without explicitly rebuking it, Georgetown performed the absolute minimum a conscientious university could do to confront an injustice unfolding right outside its front gates and impacting its own staff and students. Because of the university’s unique pedigree as a deeply international university and bastion for interfaith understanding, it is beholden to doing more than the minimum.
Comparatively, much of the academic world’s condemnation of the executive order was swift and, at times, bruising to the Trump administration. University of Notre Dame President John I. Jenkins wrote a searing indictment of the measure, urging Trump to rescind the order or else “demean our nation, whose true greatness has been its guiding ideals of fairness, welcome to immigrants, compassion for refugees, respect for religious faith and courageous refusal to compromise its principles in the face of threats.”
Meanwhile, The George Washington University President Steven Knapp maintained that “whatever its intent may be, the presidential executive order banning citizens of seven countries from entering the United States directly threatens the well-being of students as well as of faculty and staff members who come from the affected countries.” He further invited all affected students whose visas are sponsored by GW to an informational session that same week and promised to safeguard student records and provide legal and counseling services to all who need them.
The university’s response seems antithetical to the many milestones our community has achieved. In his letter, DeGioia cited the university’s founding in 1789 — eight months before the United States itself — when a quarter of its students came from different countries and the first course catalogues in the 1790s were written in three languages.
Even more recently, as the nation’s oldest Catholic university and one of its most renowned, Georgetown was the first to appoint a full-time Muslim chaplain with Imam Yahya Hendi in 1999. Last spring, Georgetown University Student Association President Enushe Khan (MSB ’17) was elected to serve as the first Muslim student to lead the student government. And since 2005, Georgetown has enjoyed a fruitful exchange of ideas with the School of Foreign Service in Qatar, bridging academic communities in the United States and Persian Gulf region.
In neglecting to forcefully denounce Trump’s callous order, the university is not just committing a disservice to the 23 undergraduates on student visas who are citizens of the seven countries. Through inaction, Georgetown is also subverting its traditional, historical and fundamental values.
Other student groups have already spoken out about the ban. On Sunday, the GUSA senate overwhelmingly passed a resolution condemning the executive order and urging the university to support any Georgetown community member adversely impacted by the action. Even the Georgetown University College Republicans broke with the President in a display of solidarity for affected Hoyas, signaling its belief in a Facebook post that “the President’s actions do not align with the true ideology of our party.”
The university should follow the example of these student organizations, which assumed a hardline stance against the bigotry and cowardice exemplified by Trump’s travel ban. But more than any student group, the university administration has access to some of the leading minds in the fields of international relations and law within its own faculty and can devote resources into transforming its objections into actionable policies.
To be fair, in the immediate confusion following the executive order, the university may understandably have been uncertain how to proceed. Even the federal agencies tasked with implementing the policy were initially baffled by how to regard U.S. green card holders and dual citizens from the seven banned nations.
But now that the dust has settled, the university should model itself on the transparency exhibited by schools like GW and hold a forum addressing specific questions from the university community about the university’s strategic direction and stance in light of the travel ban.
Even more importantly, the university should provide affected students and faculty with adequate legal and counseling services. The Office of Global Services currently directs students to the Immigration Advocates Network and the American Immigration Lawyers Association, but for those affected student who struggle to find the time or finances for a formal legal consultation, the university ought to delve into its impressive repository of expert faculty and alumni who can offer assistance, perhaps by establishing a directory for those who have expressed interest in providing consultancy.
The university has already made tremendous strides in protecting and affirming the rights of its undocumented students in light of Trump’s threats, including publically advocating for measures such as the BRIDGE Act, which extends the window of time undocumented students may seek temporary relief under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
In November, DeGioia committed to the measure by joining 600 other universities in a petition supporting DACA and invoked the words of Pope Francis in calling for the community “to promote a culture of mercy … in which no one looks at another with indifference or turns away from the suffering of our brothers and sisters.”
Trump’s attacks on Muslims, refugees and undocumented students all serve a vision of American society that is antithetical to our university’s mission emphasizing dialogue and openness to different faith traditions and cultures. Georgetown should definitively reject the premise of Trump’s executive order and protect its immigrant community with the same ferocity and courage it has previously shown toward undocumented students.
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