Members of the Geneseo community and SUNY have issued statements reiterating their commitments to diversity and inclusivity in response to President Donald Trump’s executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days and suspending refugee immigration for 120 days.
SUNY plays host to 22,140 international students, and 320 of them are enrolled from countries affected by the ban. The Office of International Scholar Services said there are no Geneseo students from the seven countries—Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen—currently enrolled here on the visas they monitor.
“We don’t have anyone on these specific visa types, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any others currently enrolled,” Assistant Provost for International Programs Rebecca Lewis said. “We have had students from these countries before and we would want to welcome students from these countries again.”
In response to what they perceive as a potential compromise to the diversity and inclusive culture fostered at Geneseo and throughout the SUNY system, President Denise Battles and the SUNY Board of Trustees issued statements reaffirming their commitment to what they described as “founding principle” of embracing diversity.
“As a community that welcomes students and scholars from around the world, let us continue to be unwavering in our commitment to inclusivity and fostering a diverse campus community that respects the unique talents and contributions we all bring to the Geneseo campus,” Battles wrote in a campus-wide email.
The executive board of the SUNY Student Assembly issued two joint statements, one objecting to the ban and the other calling students and elected officials to action in opposing it.
“We have the responsibility to come together and stand in solidarity with our colleagues looking to pursue their education in a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment,” the statement said. “We, along with our dedicated student leaders, are committed to diversity, equity and inclusion, and we will stand up for justice and equality and for the most fundamental freedoms that define American greatness.”
Students from various SUNY institutions have also signed a petition to make their campuses sanctuary spaces. Multiple members ofthe Geneseo community have signed this petition.
Representatives of the Muslim Students Association said they were pleased with the outpouring of support they’ve received from the community.
“Friends in different cultural clubs around campus have been reaching out to me, talking about how much they support us and they’ll support our club as much as they can,” president of MSA junior Abdur “Rifat” Rahaman said. “I’m glad that the response has been this strong.”
MSA members encouraged students to sustain the level of engagement in the hopes of correcting any misconceptions about the Muslim community.
“We would like to see a big turnout at MSA from people who don’t identify with the religion,” secretary of the MSA senior Alpha Barry said. “Even if people agree with the ban, I would urge them not to stop seeing each other as people and to continue a productive and fair discourse.”
Adjunct lecturer of Arabic Akil Aljaysh, who fled Iraq as a refugee in 1997, is confused by the order’s parameters.
“We don’t know who is affected or not,” he said. “I bet that you cannot go to any immigration office or any airport and they can tell you exactly ‘this person is yes and this is no.’”
Trump’s order was unclear, and Homeland Security officers interpreted the order to include green card holders despite apparent intentions from the administration that some be allowed in. In the resulting chaos, hundreds of people around the world were waylaid before flying to the United States, and dozens were taken into custody on American soil, according to CNN.
“This should touch the heart of each and every student in the State University of New York,” President of the SUNY Student Assembly Marc Cohen said in a phone interview. “This is not happening thousands of miles away, this is not happening in even a different state. It’s happening right here, and it’s happening to our colleagues, to our peers, our brothers and sisters, who are all here for the same reason, which is to pursue an education”
On Geneseo’s campus, many felt the executive order to be misguided and ineffective as a deterrent to terrorists.
“I personally don’t feel like he’s working to better foreign relations; he’s just creating more of a separation,” Barry said. “He’s not working on making things better for us or anybody else, just for himself and his administration.”
Managing editor Nicole Sheldon contributed reporting to this article.