By Darron Collins
President Donald Trump issued an executive order recently that temporarily bans citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the United States, even those with already approved visas. The current administration’s policy shift on immigration and immigrant communities is inhumane and will be the subject of intense scrutiny over the next months. It also is mercurial and therefore difficult for us to respond to through policy. But some response is essential, and I felt it absolutely necessary to emphasize – now and again – the college’s commitment to providing an open, inclusive educational experience regardless of national identity and immigration status.
As a school dedicated to human ecology, I also feel our mission demands we play a leadership role for higher education as a whole.
Although our student, staff and faculty community is small, we come from all corners of the globe: 43 countries and almost all 50 states. We also are a college that understands education as a lifelong enterprise, one that takes us far beyond the borders of campus, of Mount Desert Island and of the nation.
Consider Bonnie Tai’s class in Taiwan and Karla Peña and her students in Yucatán. They are safe, but they must be experiencing these tumultuous times in very different light. Although we currently do not have students from any of the countries highlighted, we have in the past and will in the future. In Barry Lopez’s speech to the graduating class last June, speaking of the many interwoven challenges and perils of the world, he implored us, “For God’s sake, take care of one another.” His words ring even truer today. We will address any and all concerns students have immediately, on an individual basis and with ultimate empathy.
At the same time, I want you all to be aware that I have been in touch with other colleges across the state of Maine and within the United World College-Davis Scholarship Network to see what kind of collective action we might be able to take.
Colby College President David Greene penned words to his campus which resonate with me. He characterized the higher educational system in the U.S. as excellent because of its “… commitment to free inquiry, to educating talented students from here and abroad, to populating our distinguished faculties with leading thinkers from all corners of the globe, and to scholarly collaborations that result in groundbreaking discoveries and improve the human condition.” Spot on.
The University of Michigan has taken a particularly powerful stand. Their statement underscores that “they welcome and support students without regard to their immigration status and will continue to admit students in a manner consistent with their nondiscrimination policy.” It will “comply with federal requirements associated with managing its international programs, but otherwise, does not share sensitive information like immigration status.”
Michigan will not “inquire about or record immigration status when performing their duties in community safety” and “will not partner with federal, state, or other local law enforcement agencies to enforce federal immigration law except when required to do so by law.” It “will maintain a strong commitment to the privacy of student records for all students, consistent with state and federal laws and … not provide information on immigration status to anyone except when required by law.”
We are similarly committed. I am working with colleagues in the COA community to make sure that our policies reflect these values.
What I said as we started the new year feels more relevant with each passing day: “To those who have long been marginalized in society, there was outright fear that the decades of progress around inclusivity would be turned back, that those on the tails of many bell curves would be shunned or persecuted.
“We here at COA will continue to work our hardest to make sure that this will never happen here. To the best of our abilities, we are working to make sure that it doesn’t happen anywhere. At COA, students will no doubt be tested and will be uncomfortable – perhaps physically as you climb across the Knife Edge of Mount Katahdin, perhaps intellectually as you confront material you either do not understand or do not agree with, perhaps socially as you discover that your beliefs do not align with those of a close friend. But you will always be welcomed.”
These are trying times, times when silence simply is not an option.
I look forward to working with the entire COA community and with others across the globe to address any and all threats to the freedom of inquiry we are all so committed to.
Darron Collins is president of College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor.