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Rutgers faculty join national 'Academics United' movement, show support for immigrants

Students and faculty gathered in the Fiber Optics building on Feb. 16 to discuss President Donald Trump’s travel ban. Participants voiced their demands to Rutgers administrators. – Photo by Photo by Nikhilesh De | The Daily Targum

Nearly 75 faculty members and students stopped by “Academics United,” an effort to explain the impact of President Donald J. Trump’s travel ban on academia Thursday afternoon in the Fiber Optic Materials Research building on Busch campus. 

The event was a platform for affected faculty members to discuss their concerns, as well as for the group to share a specific list of demands they have for the Rutgers administration, said Mohsen Ghassemi, a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Engineering. The Rutgers event is part of a nationwide movement of University faculty members discussing the impact the travel ban has had on their institutions. 

“The goal of 'Academics United' was to show solidarity with all the people who are affected (by Trump’s executive order), especially all those people in academia who were affected directly or indirectly,” he said. “This affects not just those who are from these countries, it affects faculty members who cannot send their students to conferences, or who cannot travel outside the country.”

The point of the seminar is to add another level of narratives to the dialogue that erupted in the wake of Trump’s travel ban — specifically, those in academia, said Shahab Raji, School of Arts and Sciences Ph.D. candidate. Professors and graduate students who are part of the Academics United movement can add their experiences or knowledge to discussions about immigration and similar issues.

More than 43,000 faculty members of various institutions signed a petition against the travel ban, calling it "detrimental to the national interests of the United States."

The petition led to the Academics United movement, Raji said.

There were 144 Rutgers students impacted by the travel ban, said Urmi Otiv, director of the Center for Global Services. Eighty of them are from Iran, 61 are from Iraq, two are from Libya and one is from Syria.

The travel ban’s impact goes beyond just the students who are from one of the seven countries, Raji said.

“The students will not be able to visit their families or have their families visit them, (which) puts a lot of pressure and will affect their academic performance,” Ghassemi said.

Many of the students or faculty members from the seven impacted countries are in the United States for research purposes, and have in the past been part of teams which produce advances in fields like medical research, he said.

“This is going to affect everyone —  it’s not just a few students from these few countries, it has a negative effect on everyone,” he said.

The travel ban can also deter some professors from hiring graduate student candidates from one of the seven nations, Raji said. Many professors fund their students using grants and may be wary of funding a student who might be barred from entering the country a year later.

If the ban is reinstated and expanded to other nations, even more potential students would lose opportunities, Ghassemi said.

“The fear is it’s not going to be limited to these 144 students, it could include more (people),” he said.

Researchers may also choose not to collaborate with American institutions. Associate Professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies Deepa Kumar said some graduate students or researchers are boycotting the U.S. due to the travel ban.

Kumar, who is also the vice-president of the Rutgers chapter of the American Association of University Professors – American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT), said academics should join the movement to take society from those who would ban members based on a religious or ethnic background.

The graduate students who hosted the Rutgers seminar hope to start a dialogue with the University’s administration, said Ph.D. candidate Sonia Razavi.

The group has certain demands for Rutgers officials, including creating long-term contracts for graduate students, explaining to current students how the executive order and future executive orders may impact their legal status and others.

These demands would help international students, particularly those from one of the seven countries banned, feel more safe and secure at Rutgers, Raji said.

They also hope to encourage other students or faculty members who are scared of being deported or barred from the nation to speak up and join, Razavi said.

“Rutgers is a community. You shouldn’t feel abandoned, you’re part of this community,” she said. “We feel people are hiding, but they’re here.”

Any international students who are unsure of their rights or status can speak to the Center for Global Services, Otiv said.

“We are here to pursue our dreams,” Ghassemi said. “Our presence here is beneficial to this country.”

Read the full list of demands below:

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Nikhilesh De is a correspondent for The Daily Targum. He is a School of Arts and Sciences senior. Follow him on Twitter @nikhileshde for more.

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