Since Trump issued the executive order on February 27 banning travel from 7 majority-Muslim countries, no one on college campuses has gotten much sleep.
Presidents, provosts, general counsel, academic and student affairs folks have grappled with interpreting the executive order and spent countless hours composing messages to their communities designed to calm and assure. Many have taken a public stand, naming their campuses “sanctuaries.” (No one quite knows what that will mean IRL though. Are the campus police really not going to enforce laws? Many of these folks, of course, are ex-cops.)
Advisors of all stripes – in the international students and scholars’ offices, faculty and professional advisors, RA’s and other peer advisors – have been quick to send encouraging messages of support to international students. Even though there is not much to say right now except we support you and please avoid demonstrations so that you don’t get arrested.
The vast armies of people responsible for the budgets and enrollment management are sitting in meetings and at their desks poring over excel spreadsheets to alter forecasts of the numbers of international students who will be paying tuition in the coming semester and years. Bloomberg estimates the potential loss at $700M.
International students have gotten the least sleep of all. When I ask advisors what they are hearing on the ground, the anecdotes range from students having panic attacks or weeping at unexpected moments, like on the grocery store line when someone might look askance at them, to some students already packing up their bags and heading home. It’s not only the students from the 7 countries named in the executive order. Even students from Western Europe are worried. And, some would say, not without reason.
The counseling centers, which are stretched to the max on a good day, are completely overrun with students needing to talk, to get assurance somewhere. Many of them are from cultures that stigmatize “talk therapy” or any psychological treatments whatsoever. And yet they need to go somewhere. They are frightened. Anxious. Terrified.
Our campuses are now a place of fear. Not the ordinary “someone might steal my laptop if I leave it too long unattended in the library.” This is real fear. Terror even. Students, faculty, administrators, executives – they are all worried.
How much learning can take place in this atmosphere? Learning requires receptivity, an open mind. If we are spending our time reacting to a world of alternative facts, to edicts that mean we lose our colleagues and friends, to the just plain wrong conflation of Islam with terrorism, to the increased isolation of our country from the benefits of interacting peacefully with others, our learning suffers. With all of these sleepless nights, the question hanging over everyone’s head is – Where will this end? It doesn’t look like it will be anytime soon.
For many years, as a dean at three Ivy League colleges and now as an AVP at a university with an extraordinary mission, I have had a front row seat to the obstacles to success that college students and their parents confront every year. Even at so-called elite, highly selective colleges such as Princeton, Harvard, and Columbia, where I spent some of my career, students struggle on a daily basis to remain healthy, happy, grounded, and to stay in school. I am dedicated to helping them.