MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A West Virginia University forum regarding an executive order imposing travel bans into the United States on a number of nationalities, mostly Muslim practicing countries, brought to light concerns among international faculty and students.
Some were purely logistical. Will the university commit open dorm space for international students who may not be able to travel home during breaks? The answer was yes.
Other questions were more politically veiled. Will WVU take a strong stance against President Donald Trump’s border orders?
“Our first priority is our students and our faculty. So, our focus is going to be how do we best tangibly support the people who are here and the people who want to come here. And, that’s where our attention will be focused,” remarked Joyce McConnell, WVU provost.
McConnell, William Brustein, Vice President for Global Strategies and International Affairs, Corey Farris, Dean of Students and Sara Berzingi, Muslim Student Association, comprised the university representatives who took questions from the audience that filled the Mountainlair ballroom and via social media.
Barbara Bower, an immigration attorney in Pittsburgh, also assisted in addressing more than two dozen concerns shared Monday evening.
While the executive order signed on Friday immediately blocked citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the United States for 90 days, Bower said the situation is very fluid.
“Who knows what’s to come?” she questioned. “If you don’t have to travel abroad, I encourage you to stay here. If you have friends or relatives who are planning to come, you really need to tell them to look at it. There are a lot of questions that are still not fully answered.”
Much of the 90-minute forum was spent advising foreign faculty and mostly foreign students on where to go if they have situational concerns.
“I would encourage any student who experiences any kind of issues in this realm to contact myself, contact the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the Title IX office, all of whom will work very hard to do our best to answer any questions and mediate the situation,” said Sara Berzingi with WVU’s Muslim Student Association.
WVU reported having 69 students from Iran, 27 students from Libya, 13 from Syria, 13 from Iraq, four students from Yemen and one from Sudan. There are no Somalian students enrolled.
The WVU Global Strategies and International Affairs is prepared to answer calls around the clock.
While students were encouraged not to engage in politically heated social media debates, Berzingi warned students to be mindful of what they are reading.
“I, too, would like to chime in and say there is a difference between hateful dialogue on social media and threatening dialogue. So, if you see anything that actually poses a threatening message to you life or the lives of others, I cannot stress enough how important it is to report, report, report. We have an Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion there for a reason.”
Moments after the forum concluded, a delegation of mostly students and some academic leaders gathered in below freezing temperatures on a snow covered Woodburn Circle for a vigil supporting Muslims, international students and refugees.
A sign made of poster board stood out under a sidewalk lamp. “We will never give into hate.” A couple hundred participants chanted “No hate! No fear! Everyone is welcome here!”
Student Adieb Anbari, speaking in broken English with a thick Syrian accent, addressed his fellow Mountaineers.
“I’m here. I study here. My family, maybe after I finish my study, I can bring them here because there (Syria) it’s really dangerous. For this reason, I’m here today to support everyone.”
Anbari, born in Philadelphia, said the recent executive order would not have an immediate impact on his travel plans or those of his family.
Standing in solidarity with those nationals from some of the 7 banned countries is still important, he said.
“Not many people here are from the Middle East. It’s few people from Middle East,” Anbari observed outside Woodburn Hall. “Maybe that’s a problem because we can’t support each other. It’s (support is) good from American people and from other countries.”
WVU’s vigil wrapped up as participants shouted “Let them in! Let them in! Let them in!”.
University administrators vowed to continue to advise students of executive decisions that will impact their status in the United States.