Exactly one week after President Donald Trump took office he signed an executive order titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the U.S.” This order imposed a 90-day suspension on U.S. entry for citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries and stirred controversy. In the aftermath, higher education institutions across the country are looking at how the order affects their students and faculty.
Messiah is among the schools working with students and faculty to try and make sense of the executive order. On January 30, President Kim Phipps issued a letter to the campus in response to the order, and the Office of Student Involvement and Leadership Programs followed up by hosting a talk called “Crossing Boundaries: Government, Policy, Immigration, Civic Responses.”
Director of the Intercultural Office, Faith Minnich Kjesbo says the office reached out to international students right after the order was signed. “Our international students are such an important part of our community so we want to do whatever we can to support and celebrate them.”
As Phipps’ letter addressed, there are currently no students or faculty directly impacted by the policy. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled against President Trump’s order and is temporarily upholding a stay.
“We don’t have any students, staff or faculty who have visas from these countries that would’ve been directly affected,” Minnich Kjesbo explains. “We do have students and perhaps employees that have connections to these countries and to people who have been directly impacted, though they themselves have not been.”
For other higher education institutions, the story is a bit different. The Institute of International Education says about 1 in 20 of the over 20 million U.S. College students are international. It’s reported that close to 17,000 students are from either Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen – the seven countries affected by the order.
In a Washington Post article, college presidents from MIT, Princeton, Harvard and Yale spoke out in response to the order. Dr. Shirley Hoogstra, the president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) of which Messiah is a part co-signed a letter to President Trump and Vice President Pence addressing the order.
Part of the letter reads, “While we are always open to improvements to our government’s screening process, we believe that our nation can continue to be both compassionate and secure. We would ask that you reconsider these decisions, allowing for resettlement of refugees to resume immediately so that our churches and ministries can continue to live out our faith in this way.”
Besides impacting students studying in the U.S., Forbes says colleges could lose a substantial amount of revenue. College Factual, a higher education research firm, says U.S. colleges could lose $700 million from the loss of students from the seven countries impacted.
Some argue the executive order will impact the larger goals of higher education. “America’s part of a global community and the world is becoming smaller,” Minnich Kjesbo explains. “Students need to learn how to become global citizens. I personally think it works against our goals of global citizenship.”
Phipps says in her letter Messiah has a commitment to global diversity, empathy and reconciliation. “Be assured that—as an educational community committed to the importance of all persons— Messiah College will continue to serve all of our students and advance our institutional mission of service, leadership and reconciliation in church and society on a global scale,” Phipps writes.
Moving forward, Minnich Kjesbo stresses the need for communication. “It’s communicating, it’s checking in, it’s conversation and trying to make sure we’re finding that balance of education and support without overwhelming people or students with too much information.”
For students looking for more information, there will be an event on Wednesday, February 22 from 5-6 p.m. in Parmer Cinema called “Our Stories Untold” that will feature the real-life stories of immigrants, refugees and international students. Students are also encouraged to stop in at the Intercultural Office on the second floor of the Union with additional questions or concerns.
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As an alumna, I am grateful that President Phipps addressed this issue and reaffirmed Messiah’s commitment to “global diversity, empathy, and reconciliation.” I hope that Messiah will continue to be a place that welcomes and protects students from all over the world.