BY ISN STAFF | January 30, 2017
Last week President Trump issued an executive order that banned indefinitely Syrian refugees from entering the U.S., suspended all refugee admissions for 120 days, and blocked citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, refugees or otherwise, from entering the United States for 90 days: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.
Community and faith leaders across the country have made public statements about these actions, expressing concerns for the dignified treatment of vulnerable populations and offering assurances of protection and respect for individuals who may be affected in some way. In particular, leaders expressed support for community members who are Muslim and were specifically targeted by the refugee and immigration announcements made on Friday.
Presidents of Jesuit colleges and universities were some of the many higher education leaders who spoke out in support of these communities with statements shared via e-mail and social media over the past few days.
Citing the executive order focused on Muslim-majority countries, Fr. Bill Leahy, S.J. and fellow administrators at Boston College, in a statement published on the college’s website, said “the order is also contrary to American understandings of this nation’s role as a refuge and its place as a society that does not discriminate on the basis of religion or national origin.” Fr. Leahy also said that Boston College is committed to ensuring that all community members feel “safe and valued.”
Jack DeGioia, Ph.D., president of Georgetown University, noted that the university places special emphasis on “interreligious dialogue” and an “openness to different faith traditions and cultures” in a statement published on the university website and shared via his university Facebook account. He also noted Georgetown’s desire to support a “diverse and vibrant Muslim community,” on the university campus. Dr. DeGioia closed the statement with the following message: “In this moment of challenge and uncertainty, we have an ever more urgent responsibility to care for one another, to empathize with those in need, to dedicate our knowledge to service, and to place above all the betterment of humankind,” and challenged the community to be animated by the call to action.
“We find enrichment and strength in our diversity,” noted Stephen V. Sundborg, S.J., president of Seattle University, in a statement made available on the university website. Citing the Jesuit mission of the university, he stated declaratively that the university “strongly opposes the discriminatory and misguided executive order issued by the Trump administration on non-U.S. citizens from select countries.”
Writing a message while attending a series of higher education network meetings in Washington, D.C., Fred Pestello, Ph.D., president of Saint Louis University, issued a statement in which he spoke decisively about those who could be impacted by the executive action, saying the university “will take every action within the law to protect all members of our community, including Muslim students and faculty” who are in the U.S. on visas.
In a statement addressed to the John Carroll University community, Fr. Robert Niehoff, S.J., the school’s president, noted that the university stands with a number of higher education networks, including the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU), and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) in advocating for “sensible immigration policies that do not discriminate against our students, faculty, and staff, while still protecting national security.”
Citing the ideals of diversity, equity, and inclusion, Rev. Brian F. Linnane, S.J., president of Loyola University Maryland affirmed in a statement “that diversity in the Loyola community includes individuals and their families who are refugees, immigrants, or not U.S. citizens.” He went on to further state that “because the seven nations included in the executive order are predominantly Muslim countries, I also want to assure those members of our community who are Muslim that they remain most welcome and valued members of our community.”
Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson, S.J., president of Creighton University stated concern surrounding the diminishment of the strength of American universities’ research and education if the numbers of international students and faculty are sharply limited, and went on to affirm the commitment of the university, guided by Jesuit ideals, to “reach out in support of immigrants and refugees.”
As interim president at Fairfield University, Lynn Babington referenced in a statement then-President, Jeffrey P. von Arx S.J.’s December signature of both the statement in support of the retention of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA), as well as the AJCU’s statement of ongoing support for undocumented immigrant students. Babington, with the rest of the administration at Fairfield, commits to “uphold and advocate for the rights of international students, faculty and staff to continue their education, research and other work.”
“Though we do not know the ultimate outcome of the president’s order (nor subsequent orders and legislation),” stated Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham University, “please be assured that Fordham University stands with the tens of thousands of refugees and would-be immigrants affected by these laws. We have a long history as a University of and for immigrants, in a city and a nation built by immigrants.”
Gonzaga University President Thayne M. McCulloh in a statement affirmed the university’s fundamental commitments, reflected in the Mission Statement, to “. . . (the) dignity of the human person, social justice, diversity, intercultural competence, global engagement, solidarity with the poor and vulnerable, and care for the planet,” particularly in relation to immigrant and “undocumented” students.
In a statement, Linda LeMura, president of LeMoyne College affirmed the school’s commitment to immigrants and refugees, and suggested action to be taken, including: “Donate to or volunteer at local agencies such as Catholic Charities and Interfaith Works, which support the resettlement of refugees to Syracuse; donate to the ACLU; and attend campus lectures and programs coordinated by the Muslim Student Association, Multicultural Affairs, and faculty on topics of inclusion.”
“Members of our LMU family are persons for and with others; affiliating them with terrorists violates their dignity, along with what has made and continues to make America great,” stated Loyola Marymount University President Timothy Law Snyder.
Loyola University Chicago President Jo Ann Rooney issued the following words to the university community, responding to the fear and uncertainty expressed by many: “I want you to know that the University continues to advocate on a multitude of fronts, including local, regional, and national levels. Our focus is on ensuring the protection and dignity of all of the members of our community and society. For those feeling frightened or vulnerable in light of recent events, I hope to offer some solace as you do not stand alone in facing the future. Loyola University Chicago stands with you in solidarity and with moral clarity. We will never stop advocating to fashion a peaceful and just society that our faith calls us to build.”
Kevin Wm. Wildes, S.J., president of Loyola University New Orleans in a statement offered affirmation of Jesuit, Catholic values in relation to acceptance of refugees, and offered words of prayer: “Give comfort to the more than 30,000 people worldwide who are forcibly displaced from their homes every day because of violence that is an affront to you. And heal the wounds of national, racial, and religious division so that we may always choose compassion over fear, hospitality over indifference, and human dignity over political expedience.”
“We are steadfast in our commitment to serve all as a welcoming learning community that is open to people from a wide variety of backgrounds, perspectives and national origins,” stated Marquette University President Michael R. Lovell. “Let’s remember the larger American story. We are a nation of immigrants.”
In statement from Rockhurst University President Rev. Thomas B Curran, S.J., the words of Pope Francis were quoted in relation to U.S. Immigration Policy: “Remember that authentic hospitality is a profound gospel value that nurtures love and is our greatest security against hateful acts of terrorism.”
In a statement emailed to the university community, Saint Peter’s University President Dr. Eugene Cornacchia stated the following: “We are a nation of immigrants. My father was an immigrant. I am the grandson of immigrants. My mother-in-law was an immigrant. In my time teaching at Saint Peter’s University I have taught students from a wide variety of faith traditions and nationalities. They have greatly enriched the classroom experience for everyone and have also contributed to a richer social and cultural environment on campus, and in our nation and world. I am a better teacher, administrator, father and grandfather – a better human being – because I have come to know people of many different backgrounds.”
“This executive order lies in sharp contrast to our mission to care for the most marginalized among us, and to cultivate the cross-cultural understanding that is necessary to address the tremendous problems facing our divided world,” explained Fr. Michael E. Engh, S.J., president of Santa Clara University. “The actions of the White House have caused fear and anxiety among many of our international students, and we are committed to caring for them so they may continue their studies and pursue their dreams.”
Donald Heller, Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs at the University of San Francisco, strongly asserted in a statement to the campus community: “You are not alone. Yet the uncertainty of what lies ahead makes us all anxious and fearful. We are fortunate at USF and in the city of San Francisco that resources are available to assist, advise, and counsel. Neither is USF alone. We have joined with Jesuit institutions and academic associations nationally and internationally to build strength and advocacy.”
A statement from University of Scranton President Kevin P. Quinn, S.J. affirmed Jesuit and Catholic solidarity with immigrants and refugees, and asserted that “welcoming neighbors from distant shores aligns with our American ideals and is a bedrock of our history in Northeastern Pennsylvania as well.”
“Xavier prepares students for a world that is increasingly diverse, complex and interdependent,” stated Xavier University President Fr. Mike Graham, S.J. “Furthermore, our Jesuit tradition compels us to be people for and with others. Driven by these commitments, I want to be clear that Xavier will remain steadfastly committed to being a diverse and inclusive community. All are welcome here regardless of faith, national origin or immigration status.”
These statements by Jesuit college and university leaders come less than two months after twenty-seven Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities presidents signed a statement in support of undocumented students and called for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to be sustained in some capacity. Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, President Trump suggested that he would end the DACA program but has not yet issued an executive order to do so. Congressional leaders have initiated a legislative response known as the BRIDGE Act which would sustain the opportunities for undocumented young people brought to the U.S. as children, offering benefits similar to those currently received by DACA recipients. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, and Ignatian Solidarity Network have all publicly supported the passage of the BRIDGE Act if President Trump does take action to eliminate DACA.
Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published as part of the Ignatian Solidarity Network News From the Network series.