Area Colleges Unsure How Refugee Ban Will Impact Enrollment

Protesters gathered Tuesday outside Rep. Tom Reed’s district office in Geneva. Organizers said they wished to protest peacefully as part of the national “Resist Trump Tuesday” effort. Area college officials, meanwhile, said they are keeping an eye on developments.
Submitted photo

Protesters gathered Tuesday outside Rep. Tom Reed’s district office in Geneva. Organizers said they wished to protest peacefully as part of the national “Resist Trump Tuesday” effort. Area college officials, meanwhile, said they are keeping an eye on developments. Submitted photo

“This could certainly impact our opportunity to welcome international students,” said Nelson Garifi, Jamestown Community College Academic Innovation executive director.

Local colleges are responding to President Donald Trump’s recent executive order, which may or may not impact their student population now or in the future. The executive order has banned the entry of Syrian refugees; temporarily suspends the entry of immigrants and non-immigrants from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen for 90 days; requires implementing uniform screening standards for all immigration programs; suspends the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days; limits the number of refugees entering the U.S. to 50,000; and asks for a variety of reports and improvement on policies.

The order was signed last Saturday, and local colleges have said they are keeping an eye on the situation.

Garifi said the college has been monitoring the situation and receiving guidance from the State University of New York system. Currently, JCC has 21 international students, however, none of the students are from the seven countries mentioned in the order.

While only seven countries are listed in the order currently, Garifi said it is unknown if other countries will be added to the list in the future. The college has several Muslim students involved in the international program, as well as students who are citizens who are also Muslims.

“If the order is causing anyone any additional anxiety, we want to make sure we are meeting their needs as well,” Garifi said, adding the college also wants to act as a support for family members, faculty and staff as well. “We are very committed to globalizing the JCC experience. We will certainly be assessing the impact (of the order).”

He said looking at the broader perspective, the order could have a profound impact on the SUNY system as a whole. The order has drawn outcry not only from the countries mentioned within it, but also from other countries, which might affect the number of students from abroad wishing to attend college here in the U.S.

“We had heard promises or warnings during the campaign, but I don’t think anyone expected it to come as loosely or as quickly as it has,” Garifi said.

This time period is an active one when it comes to applications for next fall, which could be impacted by this situation, he added. However, Garifi said he wanted to stress that JCC is open and welcomes international students.

“We are committed to making it welcoming here at JCC, but this executive order conveys a message louder than anything we can convey, and not necessarily a message we would want to convey,” he said.

Garifi said there have been students who attended the college from areas listed in the order. In the past five years, students from Iraq attended JCC, which Garifi said was a “tremendous experience.”

Students inside and outside of the international students program at JCC are monitoring the situation and appear to be concerned by it, he said.

SUNY Fredonia President Virginia Horvath recently released a statement regarding the immigration order. Horvath said she was writing to share statements from SUNY leadership and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, as well as share what supports are being enacted for students, faculty and staff.

“Here is what we can do at Fredonia: The Office of International Education offers support to international students, and Naomi Baldwin (Office of International Education director) and Jacob Czelusta (International Student Services assistant director) are reaching out to all students to determine who may be differently affected,” she said. “Many other students, however, have concerns about their status and the staff are available for information and conversation. Human resources is available to assist faculty and staff who have questions or concerns about their status. Jennifer Costa (Human Resources assistant director) can work with faculty and staff and is available to assist with visa issues and travel concerns.”

Also, Horvath said the provost and vice president for Student Affairs will develop opportunities for dialogue on the issue. She then shared a statement from Professor Czerton Lim from the Department of Theatre and Dance.

“As theatre artists, we are first and foremost storytellers,” Lim said. “Diversity breeds new stories and new points of view. Only with plurality are we truly able to tell the ‘whole’ story. Only when we can hear other points of view can we truly serve our roles as storytellers. As an immigrant, I am fully aware of what it takes to enter this country legally and the privilege of becoming a U.S. citizen. This takes time, energy and patience, so I speak for those who waited in line, who filled out the paperwork, who put in the time, who were ‘vetted,’ who sacrificed to get in line, who are fleeing horrendous conditions to apply to enter this country only to be denied due process with the flick of a pen. I speak for those denied entry and opportunity due to where they come from and what they believe.  I am speaking for those who have no voice because I have mine.”

He said he is wearing an “I AM” statement which tells about his identity which will encourage and invite other to ask questions and engage in conversations with him. “So I have decided to ‘wear’ my identity in the hopes of fostering open communication and putting a ‘face’ to the countless immigrants and refugees whose legal status is now in limbo,” Lim said. “I have decided to wear my identity while I am here in Fredonia as a theatre educator to compel people to ask ‘who I am.’  I have decided to wear my identity so that I may be able to hear other perspectives and in doing so, share my perspective, because first and foremost, I am a storyteller and I am eager to hear your story if only you are eager to hear mine.  I encourage you to ask; I encourage you to listen; I encourage you to share. I encourage you to continue to tell your story so others have a chance to tell theirs.”

Horvath said she agrees with Lim’s approach, and encourages students and staff at Fredonia to tell their stories and begin conversations.

“If we are to understand one another and the many perspectives we bring to issues beyond our campus, the I Am Campaign can be a way to start those conversations in ways that are respectful of difference and identity,” she said.

Horvath thanked those who wrote to administration officials to express concern for students and colleagues. She said there is an opportunity in the midst of this situation to engage in dialogue and learn from one another.

“I have confidence in the Fredonia community to see and respect one another and to learn and help,” Horvath said.

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