Photographer Miguel Yunda Torres (4)

Students protest executive order, others show support

The Mason community reacts to Trump’s travel ban

BY SARAH BASSIL, STAFF WRITER

Hundreds of Mason students met outside of North Plaza at approximately 3 p.m. Jan. 31 to protest an executive order signed by President Donald J. Trump.

The executive order, titled “Protection of the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” was signed Jan. 27, a week after Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States.

This executive order revoked the visas of 60,000 people, according to the U.S. Department of State. The order bars all persons from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia from entering the United States for 90 days and suspends the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days, according to the executive order released by the White House via the Office of the Press Secretary.

James L. Robart, a federal district judge in Seattle, issued a temporary restraining order against the order Feb. 3. On Feb. 7, several federal judges heard arguments in Washington vs. Trump, which challenged the legality and constitutionality of Trump’s executive order. As of Feb. 9, President Trump’s executive order was unanimously rejected by a federal appeals panel. Yet the certainty of the court’s decision still hangs in the balance: within minutes of the ruling, Trump told reporters at the White House and posted on Twitter that he plans to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.

The order incited significant political backlash towards President Trump, with the order causing numerous protests in both the United States and abroad. Mason, along with hundreds of universities across the country, was not immune to the growing conflict towards the Trump administration.

That’s when students like Adam Proctor, a Mason graduate student and one of the protest leaders, decided to start a protest on campus. Proctor said he was encouraged and inspired by the protests the previous Friday and Saturday, especially at Dulles airport when people first started protesting Trump’s executive order.

“I think it’s extremely important to organize and show dissent where you live and work,” Proctor said. “Throughout recent American history, the university campus has been a critical site of resistance. I felt with the large international and Muslim student population at GMU, we have an important role to play as a site of resistance to these xenophobic and illegal policies.”

The protest was organized by several organizations, including but not limited to Students Against Israeli Apartheid, Muslim Students’ Association, Mason DREAMERS, GMU Student Power and the Mason Muslim Affairs Council. The Mason Muslim Affairs Council held a workshop the day before the protest that provided posters and markers to make signs for the protest.

Students Against Israeli Apartheid President Lucas Rodriguez said he was happy with the turnout at the rally and hopes to work with the Muslim Students’ Association and Student Power in the future.

“We hope that the rage against Trumps actions will transform into students organizing not just against Trump but for a better world for Muslims, for black people and other people of color for women and for LGBTQ people,” Rodriguez said.

In the words of the Muslim Students’ Association’s Sisters Coordinator Fatma Gdoura, the goal of the event was clear: unity.

“[The goal of the protest] was to send a message that we all stand for one another and we will not tolerate injustice. George Mason University does a sufficient job at making the students feel safe, but there is room for improvement,” Gdoura said.

There were several speeches made by members of the Mason community at the protest, including one by Sophomore Kenya Moore. Moore said she was also one of the leaders of the protest.

“When human rights are under attack, it’s always been my instinct to speak out against that and hopefully inspires others to do so as well,” Moore said. “And as a Muslim woman who saw her friends and their families being explicitly and illegally affected I couldn’t just sit back and watch this happen without assisting in creating a space where these frustrations could be heard in solidarity and intersectionality with various other communities.”

Several students, such as Sophomore Conor Armstrong, expressed their support of the protest.

“Although I personally am not affected by this executive order, or really any of them, I knew that this was an amoral decision that is rooted solely in hatred, bigotry and fear,” Armstrong said.

Despite discontent from some groups, the executive order found support on the Mason campus. Junior Amanda Funk expressed her support for the order.

“As unfortunate and devastating as the situation in the Middle East is, it needed to be done,” Funk said. “Some also call it a ‘Muslim ban,’ yet numerous other predominantly Muslim countries were not included, and those countries were the same countries that President Obama halted visas for. So I’m not quite sure where people are getting that. My main point I wanted to make is we can’t help those coming in if we can’t protect ourselves in our own country, first. To me, it’s just logic.”

Freshman Matthew Owens expressed the same sentiments.

“While I may disagree with some aspects of the executive order, like how it would affect green card holders, I have the belief that it goes in line with the responsibility of the President of the United States: to protect our freedom and safety from possible external threats and protect every citizen of the U.S., both Muslims and non-Muslims,” Owens said.

Organizations that were not part of the event itself showed their support of the protest, such as the George Mason Democrats.

George Mason Democrats President Danni Gonyo expressed her discontent for the executive order and said, “We believe that it is a direct violation of the principles and in direct opposition to what not only the Democratic Party believes but in opposition to what a vast majority of Americans believe, regardless of political affiliation.”

Mason’s College Republicans were asked to comment on the order but did not respond.

Thousands of individuals were forced to return to their home countries from around the U.S., including Mason student Najwa Elyazgi. Elyazgi said she was traveling from her home country of Libya to Mason to return for the semester, but after complications with her entry visa, she had to stay in London for two weeks before receiving another visa and taking a flight from Istanbul to Dulles. As she was in the air, Trump signed the executive order. After several days of uncertainty, a federal judge from Washington state blocked the ban, and Elyazgi said she rushed back to the country.

“It literally destroyed me. I have a valid visa and I have entered the U.S. seven times before. I have worked very hard to come to the US to pursue a better education, and in one day, I was not able to resume my education,” Elyazgi said. “At the moment when they did not allow me to board I felt humiliated because I have all the legal documents and I am no threat to anyone. I have a high GPA and am a hardworking student. I deserved to be treated better than this.”

Elyazgi went on to say that despite her struggle to return to the U.S., the Mason community proved to be a great source of support.

“[I had great support] starting from my advisor, Troy Lowery, who answered all my emails even on the weekends and provided me with contact information when I asked for it,” Elyazgi said. “The Vice President [of University Life], Ms. Rose Pascarell, also provided me with a lot of help. President Cabrera himself sent me many emails checking on me. This kind of support made me feel loved and wanted.

President Ángel Cabrera expressed his concern with Trump’s order in an email sent to the Mason community Jan. 29.

“I am deeply concerned about this decision. This is not only unbefitting a country built by immigrants on the ideals of liberty and equality, but it is also a self-inflicted wound that will damage the very innovation that lies at the root of our nation’s prosperity,” Cabrera said.

Several Mason faculty members showed their support for Cabrera’s statement, such as Sumaiya Hamdani, an associate professor of history and art history.

“While, I believe the university could exert more pressure on the situation, I’m very encouraged by the statement President Angel Cabrera and the position of the Virginia Governor, Terry McAuliffe, and various Virginia elected officials have on the issue,” Hamdani said. “I’m hoping they can maintain the amount of pressure that [is needed] in order to rethink the particulars, if not the general outline of the E.O.”

In addition to the email from President Cabrera, Provost and Executive Vice President S. David Wu and Pascarell sent out an email Feb. 1, to the community highlighting Mason’s commitment to serving Patriots.

“We continue to advocate on behalf of all Mason students, scholars, faculty and staff; and in this moment, we are advocating for immigration policies that support our students’ success, and the success of George Mason University,” the email read.

 

All photos credit to Miguel Yunda Torres