In response to a controversial executive order on immigration, Dr. Jorge Gonzalez, Kalamazoo College President, issued a statement to the K Community last Monday affirming the college’s “commitment to an inclusive environment,” promising to “assertively protect the records and the privacy of students, faculty and staff while abiding by the law.” The statement comes in hopes to quell widespread uncertainty on campus after an executive order placing a temporary total ban immigration from seven countries (Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, and Libya) was signed by President Trump on Friday, January 27th. The order incited a range of intense responses, including widespread protest, across the nation in the weekend that followed.
The college’s statement was likely motivated after an online petition created by K alumnus Jillian McLaughlin gained attention and received a total of 1,736 signatures. The petition, posted to Change.org on Sunday, January 29th, cited the example of statements made by the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, both of which opposed Trump’s order and vowed to protect the immigration status of their students. McLaughlin’s petition encouraged Kalamazoo College to do the same.
But the college’s response seems to have done more than simply disagree with President Trump from a policy standpoint; Dr. Gonzalez writes that the executive order is “fundamentally opposed to the values of this institution,” implying the college has taken a stance against the immigration ban on ethical grounds.
Riya Bhuyan, a first-year student and native of New Delhi, shared similar thoughts, particularly in regards to potential implications for international students like herself. Though she admits K hasn’t recently enrolled any students from the seven countries mentioned in the order, she sympathizes with international students across the country who will be impacted and worries for what might come, should the president decide to impose bans against other countries in the future.
“For an international student, going outside the country to study is a huge step in more ways than one,” Bhuyan said. “For a lot of us, it’s a lifelong dream that we put a lot of financial, academic, and emotional investment into. For the American government to enforce something like this, impacting potentially tens of thousands of students across the country – I think it’s self-explanatory why it’s so ridiculous.”
This said, Bhuyan applauds Kalamazoo College for making a statement.
“I’m happy with college’s response for the most part, and I understand that it’s all they can really do,” she said. “It’s ultimately an academic institution versus the government sort of situation, which is never easy. For me, the fact that the college took this stand is commendable.”
In addition, Dr. Gonzalez affirms the college’s commitment to “supporting” to students, faculty, and staff impacted by the president’s policies in his statement, and closed the letter as he almost always does, signing off with the college’s motto, “Lux Esto.” But this time, it can be reasonably inferred that this closing held more meaning than it might on any other day. The Latin phrase “Lux Esto” translates to mean “let there be light,” or, even more simply, “be light” in English. In invoking the college’s motto, Dr. Gonzalez also brings to mind the image of the seal which bears those words: a torch held high in hand, much like the Statue of Liberty, which has been repeatedly displayed in protest to the executive order over the past week. For Bhuyan, an image like this, and all the weighty symbolism it carries, is suitable to the school she ultimately chose to leave home to attend.
“Every time [Trump] does something to waver my faith in this country, the campus community is proof that graciousness and humanity still exists, even on this side of the Atlantic,” said Bhuyan.