Students and faculty gathered at the Spaights Plaza on UW-Milwaukee campus Thursday to show their support for international students and scholars affected by President Donald Trump’s “Muslim ban” executive order.
“Hey-hey, ho-ho, this Muslim ban has got to go,” students and supporters chanted as they waited for the event to begin. International students were given an opportunity to share their own stories about how the ban affected them personally and academically, before faculty and staff came out to stand in solidarity with the students.
“I was planning on going home for doing fieldwork for my dissertation,” an architecture student said. “I am working on architectural history of Iranian cities. I have been working on this topic for four years. If the executive order stays I am not able to go back and finish my research.” (Because students shared personal, politically sensitive stories, the author is not using their names in this article.)
“I never knew what was safe for you, and I no longer know what is safe for me,” Professor Amanda Seligman said.
“When I go home, my home is so cold,” another student said. Because there is no U.S. embassy in their home country, his wife, who was recently admitted to UW-Milwaukee, had to travel to Armenia to apply for a student visa at the U.S. embassy. But once the executive order came into effect, her appointment was cancelled and she was unable to return to the U.S., he said.
Another student expressed her concern over how the ban affected the humanitarian crisis in Syria. “In March 2011, the revolution began,” the first-generation Syrian-American student said. “Six years later, 500,000 dead, four million refugees, seven million displaced internally–Donald Trump, you are wasting our time.”
Speakers at the event included Associate Vice Chancellor James Hill and American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Youth and Programs Director Emilio DeTorre.
“UWM welcomes you, UWM supports you and UWM will do all it can to make sure that you are allowed to finish your education,” Hill said.
“You guys are about the strongest,” DeTorre told the crowd, “and it is proven not only by your resolve, but that you can stand out here for an hour and a half in 14-degree weather.”
DeTorre went on to suggest that the executive order was improperly prepared and enforced.
“People are being forced to show their social media accounts, asked for their personal opinions on the president, where they stand, and asked to explain memes posted on Facebook because they are in Arabic,” he said.
“The executive order discriminates against Muslims in key respects, not only to international students, not only in the horrific stories we heard that you shared with your families and your loved ones… the pain that my friends feel not being able to be with their families, the home cooking they are missing, the weddings they are missing… but this extends past that,” DeTorre said.
UW-Milwaukee faculty also spoke to show their support for students.
“This blanket ban of immigrants is against everything that the U.S. stands for,” Associate Professor Mahsa Ranji said. “It takes guts to leave whatever is familiar to you and come to a land that is unknown to reach your goals.”
Professor Seligman read an open letter to her Iranian students. “I do not know how much longer you will be in the United States,” she said. “I know that some of you are planning on returning home soon. Please take this message to your friends and families in Iran or elsewhere: It is evident that both authoritarian governments and democratic ones are capable of inhumanity and wickedness. The foolishness of our governments does not mean that there must be enmity between our people.”
UW-Milwaukee was one of more than 40 universities across the U.S. that organized its own rallies and demonstrations to participate in the nationwide protest.
“Make your voices heard beyond Spaights Plaza,” DeTorre said. “We’re a diverse society. We’re built in great part on the sweat and ingenuity of immigrants and refugees. American Muslims–immigrants and U.S.-born alike–are part of the fabric of this nation, and we are what continues to make America great.”
As of Thursday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit had upheld a temporary restraining order on the ban. While the ban is not currently in effect, the Trump administration is looking at new ways of reinstating it. “There are so many things we can do,” policy advisor Stephen Miller said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
Director of International Student and Scholar Services Jennifer Gruenewald sent out a memo on Friday morning to ensure international students that the ISSS will continue to provide updates as they become available.