Monday, April 3, 2017
April 3, 2017: NeMLA Recaps: Forum on Immigration Executive Orders and Actions
[A couple weeks back, we held the 48th annual Northeast MLA Convention in Baltimore. Thanks to the work of President Hilda Chacón, Executive Director Carine Mardorossian, and many many more, the convention went off beautifully. This week I’ll follow up on five particular events and conversations—add your thoughts, whether you were there or not, in comments, please!]
On one specific and one overarching takeaway from a vital new NeMLA initiative.
As I highlighted in this NeMLA preview post, the newest addition to our 2017 conference—one only added to the otherwise completed program in the last couple of months, in fact—was an Open Forum on President Trump’s Executive Orders and other actions on immigration, refugees, and related issues. Along with my Executive Board colleagues—then President Hilda Chacón, Vice President Maria DiFrancesco, and Second Vice President Simona Wright—I helped chair a conversation on what organizations like NeMLA, as well as institutions of higher education and individual faculty members, can do in response to these current events, on behalf of our students and communities, and as citizens of the United States and the world. Although by scheduling necessity the Forum was up against the regular couple dozen other sessions in its time slot, we nonetheless drew a crowd of more than 20 engaged and impassioned faculty and graduate students from institutions around the country (including one of our special event speakers, Dr. Brian Norman), along with one particularly inspiring retired faculty member who had marched in the 1967 March on the Pentagon, to talk through these and many other questions.
I learned a lot from all those perspectives and voices, far more than I can share in one blog post (we’ll be writing up some of the main points for the website and newsletter, and I’ll pass them along as PS’s to this post when they’re available). But if I were to highlight one specific takeaway, it’s the need for us to share resources across institutions and communities. One of the attendees had helped draft a proposal to the Board of Trustees at her institution, requesting them to vote on whether to designate the institution a sanctuary campus and on whether to endorse a number of specific positions in any case. Another had worked with the faculty union at his institution to develop a clear union position on many of these communal issues and bring it to both institutional administration and state government. A third is in administration himself and had a clear sense of particular legal issues at play and on resources for acquiring and using such legal information in any particular situation. My guess is that many departments and institutions are moving through similar processes, but too often having to reinvent the wheel each time, rather than benefiting from these other experiences and perspectives. We asked all our attendees to send materials and resources to email@example.com, and I’d ask the same if you’re reading this post—help us develop a collective database of materials and resources that can be part of every communal response to these ongoing situations and crises.
It seems to me that such specific and practical responses comprise the most important steps that an organization like NeMLA can take to help in this multi-front battle, and to show the students, staff, and faculty affected most directly by these policies that we are allies in that fight. But the Open Forum discussion, and especially the final minutes when the retired faculty member shared his 1960s experiences and advice, also led us to broader questions of what any individual is willing to do and risk in moments such as this one. Which is to say, if my own institution made a point of not professing support for the students and community members affected by this policies (and to be clear, Fitchburg State has done so clearly and eloquently to this point, but the overarching question remains), would I be willing to risk losing my job in order to challenge that position or take action outside of those bounds? Will I be willing to march and face censure and even jail time (as our retired attendee had done in 1967) on behalf of my fellow Americans? I’d like to believe that the answer to both of those questions is yes, but in truth I can’t know for sure until I’m faced with such situations—and if and when I am, of course I’ll have my sons to think of, among other factors. But regadless of my own personal decisions, the Open Forum reminded us all of the stakes and seriousness of the moment that faces us, and the vital value of facing it together as much as possible.
Next recap tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Other NeMLA memories to share?