By Amanda Richey, Editor-in-Chief
More than 100 students, faculty, staff and Greenville community members gathered at the James B. Duke library Feb. 15 to chant about a united Furman, hold signs and listen to peers’ stories about how President Trump’s travel ban on refugees and seven predominantly Muslim countries is affecting them. The “Students for Solidarity” rally was organized with the hope of highlighting the policy’s immediate effect on Furman students and inspiring future action, student organizers said.
Photos courtesy of Aneesh Borah, ’18.
The rally was organized by seniors Kjersti Kleine and Emilee O’Brien, with the support of the Furman chapter of NAACP and the Student Diversity Council. Both Kleine and O’Brien had previously participated in rallies and marches in Washington D.C. and in Greenville. They wanted to hold a rally at Furman to show support for students who are or may be affected by the ban.
“We are coming at this from a humanistic viewpoint. The issue is inherently political but we are coming at it from a non-partisan perspective, a human perspective,” O’Brien said. “We have students that are being marginalized, so we stand with those students.”
The rally featured eight speakers, five of whom were students and two were professors. Professors discussed constitutional law and the refugee crisis before the Holocaust. Students discussed more personal aspects of life as an international student, experiences in Syria and immigration.
Muhammad Zakaria Shafqut, a sophomore from Pakistan, spoke about his ambition to study in the United States and his concern that this dream may be cut short.
“I am here on behalf of all those people who can be directly affected by this immigration order. I know my country is not listed right now on the ban but it might be in the future,” Shafqut said.
“Does this change mean that my dream to acquire US education does not mean anything to people anymore? Does this mean I cannot see my family until I graduate from Furman because I can not travel outside the US and I won’t be allowed to come back?”
Shafqut said that the attendance at the rally eased some of those fears.
Sulaiman Ahmad, a junior from Greenville and the son of Pakistani immigrants spoke about Islam and immigration.
“We [Muslims] are asked: Why do we hate America?” Ahmad said. “Muslim immigrants are not coming here to destroy America because they hate America. They’re coming here because they too want a better life for themselves. Just as my parents did.”
Andy Teye, a sophomore who was raised in Syria, shared stories of people from his childhood home.
“Syria is the first place I remember. It was my first home,” Teye said. “Why are all of these people unwelcome in coming here?”
Lynne Waheeba is a junior who lived in wartime Syria before moving to Easley, South Carolina. She saw her home blown up and called for a humanitarian lens to approach the Syrian crisis.
“The true Syrian crisis is the people who are trying to survive everyday without getting killed,” she said. “Let’s start saying no to those labels and let’s start saying yes to those people who lost their homes, without making any political comment.”
Cesi Martinez, a junior from Mexico, was the last student speaker.
“I did not cross oceans, but I did cross a desert,” she said. “I stand here beside two columns made of bricks. We have a president that wishes to put bricks upon bricks pointing heavenward. As if that could detain people. As if that could detain the love I have for my grandmother.”
Members of the Student Government Association also spoke at the rally. Junyang Chai, a senior and the vice president of the Executive Council, read the organization’s official statement that was released Feb. 14.
Student organizers O’Brien and Kleine were proud of the attendance, but also hope that students stay involved. At one point O’Brien quipped, “This is in your hands – we’re graduating.”
Kleine and O’Brien are also aware that the rally was not unanimously supported by the Furman student body.
“Overall I was surprised with how well the rally was received but I do know there are people on campus that disagreed with the purpose of the event,” Kleine said. “I just really want to encourage open dialogue…I think it’s important that we keep open minds and ask each other questions and try to determine why we think the way that we do.”
Kleine hopes that the rally not only encourages activism but also honest discussion between groups on campus with different opinions.
“If you disagreed with the rally I really encourage you to talk with someone who attended the rally and ask them why and what was their inspiration. That can go both ways,” she said.
President Davis released a statement to the entire Furman community concerning student safety in light of the travel ban executive order Jan. 30.
The events at Furman are also not a singular case when it comes to American universities addressing the travel ban. As of Feb. 20, seventeen universities (including all eight Ivy League institutions) filed an amicus brief with a federal court in New York opposing the travel ban. All of the universities claim that the travel ban is damaging to their missions to educate students.