On Jan. 27, President Donald Trump issued an executive order that sparked a flood of anxiety, alarm and anger across the nation. The order stopped individuals born in Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering or returning to the United States.
While this surge of emotion seeped into the homes of immigrants and carried passionate protests to airports, it also raised a variety of concerns including those centered around college students. Fears rose that immigrant students, as well as other racial and religious minorities, on campuses all across the nation, would potentially lose the ability to earn a safe education.
Since November, and especially following the executive order, schools and universities around the nation began naming themselves as sanctuary schools, safe places for all students. Everyone on campus received an email from President Gregory Dell’Omo’s office on Feb. 15. The message from Dell’Omo was a response to Trump’s executive order, and his sentiment was simple and clear — Rider will not discriminate against any students, no matter their race, nationality, beliefs or sexual orientation, and the university will do what it can to protect its students.
This message from Dell’Omo is more than a simple email. It is a declaration of unity at a time when many individuals feel so divided.
After the executive order was issued, many immigrants and minorities, especially racial and religious minorities across the country, felt discriminated against. However, Dell’Omo outlined steps in his statement to ensure that any form of prejudice will not have a home on this campus. He specifically said, “The university does not and will not discriminate against someone because of their religion, race, country of national origin, gender identity or sexual orientation.” This is reassuring to anyone with any fear of belonging here at Rider.
The email also stated that we have “existing policies designed to protect members of the university community.” This is an important statement to include, as it goes even further than saying that Rider does not discriminate. Rider will also try to protect students in the face of the executive order, such as through following the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the federal law that maintains the privacy of the educational records of students.
From a broader standpoint, the statement also further unified the campus in a way that lines up perfectly with the main intention of all universities — educating. This statement outlines the various steps that Rider is taking, including signing a letter expressing affinity with international students, addressed to the new Secretary of Homeland Security John F. Kelly. It also details the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, which allows some undocumented immigrants to apply for work permits and deferred action against deportation. This all keeps the Rider community informed and updated.
However, Dell’Omo’s email does not immediately satisfy all concerns or worries. He still did not name Rider as an actual sanctuary school in his statement, nor did he declare it as such in our recent interview. He also completely avoided the word Muslim, which names the entire religious community that the executive order seems to target. Our Muslim students make up a thriving religious community here at Rider. The statement also came nearly a month after Trump’s executive order was initially issued, and after reporters from The Rider News inquired.
These criticisms are certainly valid. However, it is still important to remember that the statement from Dell’Omo served a single purpose — to unify our community here at Rider. We may not officially be a national sanctuary school, but we are a safe place for our students. Although the president should have mentioned Muslims specifically in his email, he did state that we do not discriminate based on religion or beliefs, and he did say that Rider will try to protect students.
There is also a level of fortitude that comes from issuing a statement like this. In this emotionally charged landscape, it is easy for statements to be construed as political commentaries that support one belief system over another. However, Dell’Omo’s message to the Rider community defied all concern of making a political statement. It also was not explicit in support or defiance of Trump. It was only in support of our students, which is truly the only sentiment that matters.
Politically and emotionally, our nation is often divided. Sometimes, even our campus feels a bit divided, from administrators and faculty to faculty and students. This harsh fact adds significance and strength to Dell’Omo’s statement. We need to put everything aside and as a campus and a community, we need to stay unified.
And when anyone feels afraid or excluded on this campus, a single statement should offer some reassurance to students: “Rider University is a community of learners committed to supporting one another.”
The weekly editorial expresses the majority opinion of The Rider News. This week’s editorial was written by the Opinion Editor, Samantha Sawh.
Printed in the 2/22/17 issue.