“What Happens Now?”: A forum to discuss bigotry and closed borders in the Trump era

What happens now forum 2
A panel of university faculty members engaged in the second part of a three part forum series titled “What Happens Now?”


On Monday evening, the second installment of the three-part forum series, subtitled “A Forum to Discuss Bigotry and Closed Borders in the Trump Era,” featured a panel of six university faculty members. It outlined what has happened in the few short weeks since President Donald Trump took office on Jan. 20.

The first installment of three-part forum series discussed what might happen in Donald Trump’s presidency. In the coming months, a third installment hopes to focus directly on the Delaware judiciary, legal and political processes, direct action and advocacy processes.

The installment was moderated by Patricia Sloane-White, a chair of the Department of Women and Gender Studies and professor of anthropology.

Articulated as a direct response to the growing climate of anger, fear and sadness on campus in the aftermath of the election, the forum was sponsored by the departments of women and gender studies, sociology and criminal justice, political science and international relations, and history and by the College of Arts and Sciences.

For example, on Jan. 27, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that severely restricted immigration from seven Muslim countries, suspended all refugee admission for 120 days, and barred all Syrian refugees indefinitely. Legal challenges against the executive order are plentiful. But the fruition of a national policy that appears to be motivated solely by religious bigotry and the implementation of policies that are anti-immigrant in sentiment cannot be ignored by the university’s faculty and student body alike, Sloane-White said.

“People have to flee the known choice of death or death, of killing or being killed,” Ikram Masmoudi, associate professor of languages, literatures and cultures, said.

Kassra A.R. Oskooii, an Iranian-American, former refugee and assistant professor of political science and international relations, discussed the effects of multi-faith and multi-racial protests that unfolded at airports and the media publicity of these protests. Oskooii directly referenced protests at the nearby Philadelphia International Airport.

Sharing information from recent two-stage studies that he conducted alongside professors and colleagues at two different universities, Oskooii concluded that initial findings illustrate the power of public outcries, demonstrations, protests and their effect on public awareness and public opinion.

“The [Mexico border] wall is a symbolic gesture,” Phillip Penix-Tadsen, associate professor of language, literatures and cultures, said. “It is a distraction from the real issues facing immigration reform…a path to earn citizenship, family reunification, a safe legal and orderly avenue for migrant workers to enter and leave the United States, labor protections for all workers and border enforcement policies…[that] protect the human rights of all individuals.”

Pascha Bueno-Hansen, associate professor of women and gender studies, focused on her own identity as a queer Latina. Bueno-Hansen offered “love and solidarity, in resistance to rapacious capitalism, white supremacy, Islamophobia and heteropatriarchy.”

As one of the authors of the sanctuary campus petition from the university community, Bueno-Hansen proclaimed “queer rights are immigrant rights and immigrant rights are queer rights.”

President Donald Trump’s administration has formally taken its first steps toward curtailing LGBTQ rights, refuting and pulling away from President Barack Obama’s pro-transgender guidance issued last May.

“Transgender and gender nonconforming people are forced to go a bathroom that does not align with who they know themselves to be,” Bueno-Hansen said.

Polly Zavadivker, assistant professor of Jewish studies, reminded listeners of the precedent in American history for the travel ban that was issued by President Donald Trump.

Nearly a century old, the Immigration Act of 1924 limited the annual number of immigrants who could be admitted from any country to two percent of the number of people from that country who were already living in the United States as of the 1890 census. The law directed its energies toward restricting the immigration of Southern Europeans, Eastern Europeans, particularly Italians and Eastern European Jews, Africans, Arabs and Asians.

The Immigration Act of 1924 had unforeseen impacts on refugees in the 1930s. Attempting to flee from persecution and anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe and Germany, refugees in the 1930s could not gain entry into the United States.

“Once again, the United States faces a situation in which refugees, who have been victims of crimes against humanity are seeking asylum,” Zavadivker said. “In principle, what is most painful about this ban is that it is meant to prevent those who support genocidal aims from coming into our country…but what it does, in practice, is prevent those who are seeking asylum, from those same genocidal aims, from entering our country.”

Leland Ware, the Louis L. Redding Chair for the Study of Law and Public Policy, focused on the legal aspects of President Donald Trump’s executive order.

“President Donald Trump said, for fifteen months, that he was going to enact a Muslim ban, and now he is trying to say the travel ban is not a Muslim ban, so stay tuned,” Ware said, in one of the lighter moments of the forum. “We started out with ‘The Apprentice,’ but we have devolved to the amateur hour.”

Following each panelists opening remarks, the forum opened up to audience members to comment and ask questions.

“For a lot of us who are people of color, queer people, undocumented or women, the University of Delaware is a very violent institution to study at and very challenging to survive and thrive in,” senior Jay Alston said, to a chorus of snaps.

Multiple panelists believed there was a true emphasis on campus, emanating from university administration, to make a concerted effort to hire more diverse faculty.

“We must build on our coalitions. We must strengthen our communities. We must love each other radically. We must resist,” Bueno-Hansen said.

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