As a globally recognized research institution, Stony Brook University takes pride in the international diversity of its campus. Its community benefits from the many international students and faculty who enhance the life-changing research within so many disciplines, performed within its walls.
But its sense of inclusiveness has been challenged by recent immigration policy changes, the impacts of which are felt in its own backyard.
After the first executive order affecting refugees and visa holders from designated nations was signed by President Donald Trump in January 2017, there was an aura of uncertainty in the SBU community. Then the order hit home — one student who has been studying in the United States for 10 years was nearly deported, and another student was, in fact, sent out of the country that day. It took nearly a week for this student to be allowed back into the United States.
A Welcoming and Safe Community
Stony Brook’s Visa and Immigration Services (VIS) and Government Relations teams worked tirelessly with the University’s federal delegation to help students and faculty who experienced visa issues, and continue to do so. On February 1, 2017, hundreds participated in two events held in support of the more than 80 students and faculty who hail from the majority-Muslim countries on the order. A March for Unity, organized by the Stony Brook College Democrats, Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, Planned Parenthood Generation Action at SBU, Coalition University Students for Progress and New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), was held during Campus Lifetime; that evening, Stony Brook’s Interfaith Council presented Seawolves for Solidarity, at which Stony Brook President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. addressed the crowd.
In an op-ed that appeared in Scientific American in 2017, President Stanley issued a call to resist anti-immigration rhetoric: “Our embrace of international students and faculty has given the U.S. a leg up on all other countries in the race to lead in innovation and discovery. We augment our extraordinary homegrown talent with future leaders from around the world. But time is short, the new policies and rhetoric are taking their toll, significant damage is being done, and if we surrender our global edge in innovation and discovery, we may never get it back.”
Since then, President Trump announced in September that he would end the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program, effective March 2018. Created under President Barack Obama, DACA has allowed hundreds of thousands of young people who were brought to the United States illegally as children to remain in the country.
This change impacts our community in that the University is home to many “Dreamers” — those protected under DACA — as well as students, faculty and staff who have family members, friends and colleagues affected by the imposed deadline.
Visibility as a Tool for Support
In response, faculty from the College of Arts and Sciences coordinated a teach-in to discuss the impact of reversing DACA at Stony Brook, sharing resources and strategies with a concerned community. This was a continuation of the initiative our faculty have taken to support students concerned by policy changes under the country’s administration. A similar teach-in series was held in the spring 2017 semester, including a global discussion on refugees and the immigration ban that generated much interest both on campus and with local media.
“History has been happening quickly on the immigration front, and often with harsh and troubling turns,” said Christopher Sellers, director of Stony Brook’s Center for the Study of Inequalities, Social Justice and Policy. “How can we as a University lend a hand to protect those affected? Many of us feel strongly that through teach-ins and other forums, we can provide critical information to address these pressing issues.”
Nancy Hiemstra, an assistant professor in the Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies who participated in the teach-in series, has been studying immigration for more than 10 years. She said the more visible the University can be with necessary information on how to support students, the better.
“As someone who researches detention and deportation, I know that these policies are heavily influenced by beliefs that are simply incorrect,” Hiemstra said.
Rodman Serrano ’18, an English education major whose parents are from El Salvador, collaborated with fellow students who were concerned about how their families would be affected by the policy changes. Together, they formed the Stony Brook Immigrant Student Advocates. He said the group provides an outlet for undocumented students to open up about their status, and offers information on topics such as financial services, many of which they don’t qualify for because they are not citizens or residents. The group, composed of undocumented students, DACA students and U.S. citizens, is looking to include more international students in semesters to come.
“It’s good to hear the commitment of President Stanley to protect students,” said Sellers.