All international students on campus received an email last week from the Office of International Education including a link to an article from the Washington Post detailing President Trump’s new executive order.
The new order, which has since been blocked by a federal judge in Hawaii and received review from multiple other judges, imposes a 90-day ban on approving new visas for citizens coming from six majority-Muslim nations, as well as places several restrictions on the U.S.'s refugee program.
Although the University of Richmond is not currently hosting any students from the six countries named in the revised order, there is a general feeling of uncertainty among international students regarding their futures in the U.S.
“Countries can be added at anytime to the order, and the uncertainty over whether a student’s home country will be added in the future is causing anxiety,” Krittika Onsanit, the director of international student and scholar services, said.
Freshman Bilal Hindi, an international student from Lebanon, expressed his frustration regarding the executive orders.
“I feel like my entire future is unknown," Hindi said. "I don’t know if I need to stop planning for next year, or wait around until another order comes out saying that I’m okay to return to the U.S. [after summer break]. My future is basically relying on someone signing their name with a pen.”
While the subject matter of potential executive orders remain unknown, UR faculty, staff and administration are committed to understanding how the university will function given these new political realities.
“There is a bit of catch-up that everyone is trying to play, due to the speed at which these orders are coming out,” Manuella Meyer, associate professor of history and faculty senate member, said. “There are questions about how to address these issues, but also how to educate ourselves about these issues.”
Faculty members like Onsanit are meeting individually with concerned students and organizing panel discussions regarding these issues, as well as sending regular updates from the news about the order.
“I know our legal services team is working on an FAQ guide regarding the ban to put up on our website, as well as possibly having a portal go live on the website that will best update people on the matter, as well as provide resources,” Meyer said.
The executive order comes at a time of much political controversy. Many institutes of higher education, including the University of Richmond, have issued statements condemning Trump’s actions.
In an email sent to all campus community members, President Ronald Crutcher expressed his concerns about the exclusive nature of the order based on national origin or religious beliefs, stating that this is contrary to both American ideals and the mission of higher education.
“The fact that the school has taken an official position on the executive order is inappropriate," Andrew Brennan, president of the campus Republicans, said. "I don’t think it’s the school’s job, given that, even though we are a private university, we still receive some federal funding."
However, many people believe that the order goes directly against Richmond's mission as a university, as the order has been deemed “discriminatory” by several legal experts due to its language suggesting that it targets those from Muslim-majority countries.
“Institutions of higher education are taking a very overt political and social stance against intolerance, against discrimination,” Meyer said. “Toleration and acceptance, these are central components of UR’s mission, and it is clear that the order goes against everything we value.”
Some exchange students, including Gustav Henningson, agree with many of the faculty members who oppose the executive order.
“When it comes to these rather extreme circumstances, I think it would be rather inappropriate for UR to stay quiet, because staying quiet can also indicate an indirect approval of Trump’s actions,” Henningson, whose home institution is the Paris Institute of Political Studies in Paris, said.
“And for a community like UR’s, I think that would be a very insulting thing to do, because the international community is so strong here,” Henningson said.
International students currently make up 12 percent of the undergraduate student population and come from over 70 countries.
Brennan said he believes that the school should take a more silent approach to dealing with implications of the order.
“I think that the school should do everything they can do within the law to work with affected students to make sure that their situation is okay,” Brennan said.
U.S. citizens as well as international students who are not from the Middle East are showing concern about the order.
“I think the order also affects U.S. citizens who worry about the message it sends, that the U.S. is not welcoming to citizens of other countries, especially predominately Muslim countries,” Onsanit said.
Henningson agreed and added that his friendships with Muslim students on campus makes the ban even more of a personal concern.
“I’m not threatened by the order, but I can relate to it because I have several Muslim friends on campus, and as their friend, I feel very targeted by the order,” Henningson said. “I know these people. I love these people. Why should they suffer for something they have absolutely nothing to do with?”
Henningson believes that future emails including updates about the executive order should be sent to the entire campus community, not exclusively international students.
“I should not be more concerned than any other student. Everyone should be aware of this; everyone should have an opinion on it,” Henningson said.
Contact news editor Jocelyn Grzeszczak at firstname.lastname@example.org.