GW leaders say they are committed to helping students from Muslim-majority countries attend and stay at the University after an executive order Friday banned those from seven Middle Eastern countries from entering the U.S.
While GW officials said assistance for international students will remain the same, some faculty and student leaders said the ban will impact campus diversity and make it difficult for students from those countries to attend the University.
Starting Jan. 27, the order bans Syrian refugees indefinitely as well as any immigrant or nonimmigrant from Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Iran and Iraq, including those with a valid U.S. visa, from entering the country for 90 days.
The order also caps refugee admissions for the 2017 fiscal year at half their current amount, ends the Visa Interview Waiver Program that allows repeat travelers to forgo the visa renewal interview and suspends the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days. Trump administration leaders attempted to walk back parts of the order Sunday by saying that those with green cards would still be allowed into the country but added that border officials would be able to detain some at their own discretion.
The 52 graduate and four undergraduate international students from the banned nations at GW are spread out among eight of the University’s 10 schools, including the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Elliott School of International Affairs.
In the 2015-2016 academic year, there were 17,354 international students studying in the U.S. from the seven banned countries, according to the Institute of International Education.
University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar said 73 GW students, scholars and alumni currently working in the area are affected by the executive order, but that the admissions and international services offices will remain committed to GW’s international diversity.
“We work closely with the U.S. Government to help our international students navigate the U.S. visa process,” Csellar said, adding that officials will work on an individual bases with affected students about their visa retention concerns.
International students at GW hold either an F-1 or J-1 visas. F-1 visa holders are generally full-time students personally financing their educations, while J-1 visa holders are students, researchers and professors who receive merit-based grants for international educational exchange under the Fulbright-Hayes Act. The second group of students often have a substantive portion of their tuitions covered by scholarships.
GW will continue to send recruiters to international cities for information and welcome sessions and to provide tours to international visitors, Csellar said.
Officials are also currently examining how the order will affect international students, faculty, staff and their families, according to a statement from the international students office Sunday.
As leaders try to navigate their way around the ban to let international students in, protests calling the ban unconstitutional and discriminatory have broken out across the country, including the more than 13,000 people who gathered at the White House Sunday.
GW has now joined other institutions like Princeton and Yale universities in advising those who are affected by the executive order to not leave the country for the foreseeable future or to risk not be readmitted. Citizens from the banned nations who are trying to enter the country have already been detained in airports, but a stay issued by a federal judge Saturday blocked those detained in the airports from being deported.
A cultural limit
Nathan Brown, the director of the Institute for Middle East Studies at GW, said the ban will limit diversity at universities and the exchange of ideas between the U.S. and Middle Eastern countries.
“The executive order bears all the hallmarks of being a symbolic political statement rather than one designed to enhance American security,” Brown said. “It will hamper scholarly exchange, keep legitimate students out of U.S. universities and is a public diplomacy black eye for the United States.”
Brown added that the ban personally affects his work: He has been contacted by an internationally recognized scholar who has contributed to reforming Arab political systems and invited him to conferences, but because he has an Iraqi passport and the conference is in the U.S, he will not be able to attend.
“Since very stringent vetting was already in place, the executive order simply bars the kinds of people that we would have wanted to let in,” Brown said.
Shira Robinson, an associate professor of history and international affairs, said she foresees widespread, negative effects of a visa ban hampering academic exchange based on what she has heard from representatives from the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and immigration lawyers.
“This will be a catastrophe for GW’s non-citizen Arab and Muslim students, and therefore for the entire University,” Robinson said.
The ban could also significantly impact international student enrollment, which the University has sought to increase in recent years, she said.
“The reason why I think it’s going to be broader than just an issue of students from these particular countries is that I envision this as only step one,” she said. “Students from around the world are going to be concerned about applying to GW and other American schools, lest their country be added to the list.”
The results of the ban will also be seen in the classroom, Robinson said. In addition to international enrollment dropping, students from the affected countries may be afraid to contribute to class discussions.
“It’s going to impoverish the diversity of my student body, which always leads to the impoverishment of class discussion,” she said. “I learn less when my students all come from the same background. The students learn less from each other when they all come from the same background.”
Student fears and concerns
Isaac Fuhrman, the president of the International Students Community, said the ISC condemns the Trump administration’s actions but feels confident that the University will continue to protect all students, including those from banned countries.
“GW has proved to be a very welcoming institution towards international students, and I am sure that will continue to be,” Fuhrman said.
Fuhrman added that although the ISC is not involved in the administrative policymaking of the International Services Office, the organization will work with the University to make sure all international students understand the possible changes to the visa program.
“In terms of activism, we will explore the potential of uniting the different populations being affected by the new policies of President Trump to ensure that the message gets through loud and clear,” he said.
Ali Afshari, the president of the Iranian Democratic Student Association, said the ban will likely jeopardize students’ educational opportunities by making them feel unsafe and afraid to go home or study abroad.
“This is a type of collective punishment,” he said. “It should not be targeting any one religion or country or race, the concerns are about ideas.”