Whilst the US Travel Ban (and the new revised 2.0) was hot news for several weeks, it has nearly disappeared from our news screens already. Nonetheless, the ban(s) and current US politics continue to pose difficult questions for universities, scholarly communities, and students around the globe. Of course, universities in the US are faced with some of the greatest problems and questions. At ISA 2017 in Baltimore, I acted as discussant on a panel on ‘study abroad programs’ in which the QnA quickly turned to the issue of the travel ban and other immigration ‘moves’ in the US. I saw how my American colleagues were facing issues that we in Canada do not face– for example, having to counsel and advise students who now fear participating in these valuable programs at the risk of not being able to return home. There is of course the wider problem of campuses becoming so deeply divided (politically) that teaching (politics in particular, but many other topics) has at the same time become more difficult and ever more important. Many “teaching in the Trump era” guides, news articles , and editorials have responded to this new challenge.
Here in Canada, the recent Travel Bans and immigration moves in the US have not had as obvious an impact (though there are many colleagues and students who are directly impacted by recent events– I by no means wish to wash away the many people who are experiencing the real ramifications of recent policies). However, the problem here is quantitatively and qualitatively different. The topic has of course come up with students, and we’ve discussed things in class, but it has, in my experience, been very civil and though students are indeed interested in what’s going on south of the 49th, they are (for the most part) not as personally impacted and thus the issues arising are, again, different. Far fewer students have a fear of leaving the country, lest they not be able to return to their studies. Colleagues may need to re-route their flights but are much less at risk of not being able to return to their offices, labs, homes and families in Vancouver (though for some with family in the US there is of course a fear about when/if they will be able to visit loved ones again and their safety).
Still, the recent travel ban and shift towards populist or nationalist governments around the world have ramifications for all of us in the classroom, and for universities around the world. These events have put the spotlight on issues affecting the academy that have always been there (academic freedom, scholars at risk, lack of equal opportunities for students etc), but have not been talked about widely or enough by administrators, departments or with our students. In response to all of this, several of us drafted a letter to the UBC administration voicing our concern. My colleague Prof. Christina Hendricks has written about our motivation for this, and provided a copy of our letter here. We received a formal reply from the university which noted our concern and detailed a range of actions the university is undertaking.
I am re-posting all of this hear in the hopes that the specific issues raised for our students and colleagues around the world do not fall out of view as the news cycle turns. The impacts and fears remain real and, as I note above, raise issues that have always existed with in the academy, though often in less publicized ways. Recent events in both Turkey and Hungary are but two other examples. I also hope that some of my readers will have a look at some of the actions our university is trying to take in response to issues related to (and beyond) the travel bans and consider ways that we can make academic freedom as well as the safety and security of a range of marginalized groups on our campus and in our profession a regular and intentional part of our conversations. On a more personal level– check in with your students. The ways that recent politics (in the US and abroad) are impacting your students may remain hidden to you. Invite students to meet with you to discuss concerns they may have regarding their status at your university, their future their well being. In the same way scholars around the world work to protect each other, so must we protect the most junior scholars among us.