Friday, November 16, 2018
Education

At USF and other college campuses, angst swells over immigration order

TAMPA

Several hundred students gathered with megaphones at the University of South Florida on Monday to protest President Donald Trump's order blocking visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries. But they also directed their ire at USF president Judy Genshaft, who waited until Monday night to join her colleagues at the state's other large schools in making a statement on the issue.

"Immigration built this nation," students chanted beneath campus palm trees, holding homemade signs.

"Speak up, Judy!" one sign said.

"Hi Judy!" read another. "Your silence makes you complicit."

Trump's 90-day ban sent American universities scrambling to keep students calm as activists staged rallies amid confusion about students and professors stranded abroad. More than 17,000 students from the affected countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen — have been urged to defer overseas travel, according to the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.

Some university presidents have flatly condemned the ban, the effects of which are already being seen. A University of Central Florida doctoral student from Iran has been barred from re-entering the U.S., said officials at UCF, where president John C. Hitt sent out a statement late Monday saying "diversity and inclusivity make our university smarter and stronger" and quoting from an inscription on the Statue of Liberty.

University of Florida president Kent Fuchs and Florida State University president John Thrasher issued statements Sunday as protests intensified across the nation. Fuchs affirmed UF's solidarity with international students, faculty and staff. About 200 UF students come from the affected countries, he said. Thrasher said his school was "deeply concerned" about the new policy and said the school was "enriched and strengthened" by its international students.

Many at the morning USF rally clamored to hear from Genshaft, who has boasted in the past about her school's large and growing body of international students and who is working to pull even with UF and FSU by securing official status as a "pre-eminent" university in Florida.

Instead, students received an email from provost Ralph Wilcox, who said USF is "enriched and strengthened each day" by its sprawling population of international students, totaling 4,500.

"We are deeply committed to providing a warm and welcoming campus to students, faculty and staff from around the world," he wrote to students. This semester, 123 students from the affected countries attend USF. Nearly 80 hail from Iran, and 15 come from Syria.

"The university touts itself as this leader in the academic world, having a global vision, so I think they need to stand with students who might be affected," said Suzanne Young, a graduate student at USF and an organizer of Monday's rally. "It's too important not to. It's too urgent not to."

The rally started with about 100 participants, but their ranks soon swelled as the diverse crowd sang This Land Is Your Land.

"Am I not a human being? Are Muslims not human beings?" Ahmad Hussan, a 26-year-old USF graduate, shouted to the crowd. Later, he said Genshaft's silence amounted to saying, "You don't matter to me."

"She needs to get her act together, and I say that with as much respect as I can," Hussan said.

Students cheered as sociology professor Elizabeth Aranda took a megaphone. Any ban on immigration needs to be grounded in empirical facts, not fear, Aranda warned, lest history repeat itself.

"Banning refugees is a stain on our country," she said.

Zohreh Nemati, an Iranian-born researcher and USF adjunct professor here on a visa, has watched with dismay as the order has deferred her friends' dreams and clouded her own future with uncertainty.

She said one of her Iranian friends, a doctoral student in mechanical engineering at USF, went home to visit family and planned to return to defend his dissertation. He got an email Thursday saying his visa was ready to pick up.

But on Monday, his visa was "refused" on the U.S. Department of State's website, presumably because of Trump's order, Nemati said.

Nemati, 35, graduated from USF last fall. She hoped to get a green card this year and visit her parents, whom she hasn't seen in five years. But now she and a friend are thinking about applying for citizenship in Canada.

"I wanted to build my life here, but I don't know what the situation is going to be and we cannot have an unstable life," she said. "I'll go somewhere they want me."

Monday's rally restored some of her hope, she said.

Times staff writer Tony Marrero contributed to this report. Contact Claire McNeill at [email protected]

   
Comments
DeVos releases sexual assault rules she hails as balancing rights of victims, accused

DeVos releases sexual assault rules she hails as balancing rights of victims, accused

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Friday released her long-awaited rewrite of rules governing campus sexual harassment and assault allegations, narrowing the cases schools must investigate and giving
Updated: 8 hours ago
Inside the newsroom: Tampa Bay Times project team takes a deep dive inside a notorious Florida death penalty case

Inside the newsroom: Tampa Bay Times project team takes a deep dive inside a notorious Florida death penalty case

A project team at the Tampa Bay Times explores the death penalty in Florida through a notorious 1975 murder case.
Updated: 9 hours ago
USF's new dorm in St. Petersburg will get a financial assist from the Tampa campus

USF's new dorm in St. Petersburg will get a financial assist from the Tampa campus

Construction on a long-planned student residence at USF St. Petersburg will start in February and be complete in 2020. It will have room for more than 900 students and a 400-seat dining hall.
Updated: 9 hours ago
Politics, practicality, price: Across Florida, rural students put off by perceived weaknesses of higher education

Politics, practicality, price: Across Florida, rural students put off by perceived weaknesses of higher education

In rural enclaves, practical-minded students are losing faith in the value of college. Many see it as an outright corrosive force and are frustrated by its outsize cost and perceived uselessness.
Updated: 10 hours ago
Greco Middle School, three others in Hillsborough get new principals

Greco Middle School, three others in Hillsborough get new principals

TAMPA – In between speeches about Lee Elementary School and the debate to rename Lee, the Hillsborough County School Board on Thursday also approved 17 administrative assignments that included new leaders at four schools.Andrew Olson is being t...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Florida education news: School names, teacher pay, mental health services and more

Florida education news: School names, teacher pay, mental health services and more

A roundup of stories from around the state.
Published: 11/16/18
Lee is renamed Tampa Heights Elementary School

Lee is renamed Tampa Heights Elementary School

TAMPA — Even the vote to rename Lee Elementary School — a treasured institution that weathered a devastating fire and a year-long relocation — did not happen without twists and turns.Thursday's decision to call the school Tampa H...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Years after the ribbon cutting, USF sorts out a funding mix-up with one of its buildings

Years after the ribbon cutting, USF sorts out a funding mix-up with one of its buildings

A state-ordered review of construction funding at Florida universities has uncovered a multimillion-dollar funding snag at the University of South Florida that officials there are not fully explaining.The mix-up involves the $21.7 million Dr. Kiran C...
Published: 11/15/18
Gradebook podcast: Recounting Florida – The Education Election Edition

Gradebook podcast: Recounting Florida – The Education Election Edition

A discussion on school board term limits, tax referendums and other issues from the November election.
Published: 11/15/18
Florida education news: Recount lessons, contract talks, student support and more

Florida education news: Recount lessons, contract talks, student support and more

A roundup of stories from around the state.
Published: 11/15/18