Over the last few weeks, I have heard from students and faculty who have expressed concern about President Trump’s executive order on immigration. Anxiety is high among students from Muslim countries who fear that they might be deported or not allowed to return if they leave the United States. They also worry about the effects of the travel ban on family and friends who were ever so close to their American dream, but now barred from entering the United States.
The American dream animates not just our nation, but people from many nations. It fans the flame of audacious hope among young men and women from around the world who somehow believe that they can land at JFK with a backpack and a suitcase and can become a part of the American dream even though they are foreigners. Current CEOs of Microsoft, Google, Adobe and PepsiCo are only a few examples of those who came to the U.S. as graduate students and realized their American dream.
I was one of these dreamers, roughly 30 years ago, who was fortunate enough to enter the United States and experience the welcoming hospitality and generosity of American friends, mentors and colleagues. Though an immigrant citizen, I now consider the U.S. my home and I am proud of it.
To me, the American dream is more than aspirations of upward mobility or a better economic future. It is entrenched in the ethos and ideals of democracy, openness and the egalitarian and humanistic ideal that all individuals are equal. In addition, values such as decency, compassion, hard work, due process, rule of law, unbounded optimism and an indomitable can-do spirit make us the beacon of hope and the city on a hill for people around the world. The soft power of our country lies in these immutable values that are no match for any arsenal.
I empathize with the refugees and dreamers who have waited many years to experience the American Dream. I empathize with our own disaffected citizens for whom the American Dream has been elusive. And I see the potential threat of terrorism that cannot be ignored. But we should be careful not to conflate these emotions and jump to conclusions of cause and effect.
I don’t have an answer. But I know it is important to resist the reflex to batten down the hatches because it will snuff out the flame of freedom in the hearts and minds of the citizens of the world.
I assure you that we remain committed to an environment of inclusion, mutual understanding, cultural openness and free expression. If you know of a member of our community who has been affected by these developments, I am available to listen and help. Further, we have developed a ComArtSci resource page on this topic that I encourage you to check from time to time.