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Trump’s Immigrant Ban Creates Turmoil for MBA Students Across the Country

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Students Take Action to Offer Support, Show Solidarity
A number of HBS students participated in the protests in Copley Square in Boston over the weekend, as well as at Logan Airport. The concerns compiled by the Student Association Senate were shared with the dean to aid in organizing an information session with Harvard’s International Office and to contribute to a FAQ webpage where students will have access to all available resources. In addition to gathering for Monday’s rally on campus at which President Gutman spoke, Wharton students also demonstrated over the weekend at Philadelphia International Airport.

At Haas, MBA students circulated a strongly worded letter to Dean Rich Lyons on Sunday (Jan. 29), urging him to use his voice to take action. The letter outlined the order’s injurious impact on affected Haas students—who find themselves banned from travel for international conferences, studying overseas or simply visiting family; denied opportunities to take jobs and internships in the United States they have worked hard for and prevented from having family members share in their accomplishments at graduation time.

“While these examples strike close to home, they are just the beginning,” the letter continued. “The executive order has taken direct aim at the most vulnerable people in the world, with refugees fleeing conflict being stopped and detained at airports around the country.” Expressing outrage about what they termed “vindictive violations of human rights,” the students pledged to organize in coming weeks to push back and protect those most impacted.

The Haas students also presented Dean Lyons with a specific challenge. “Today, we are asking that you stand up and speak out on behalf of all of us,” the letter read. “Specifically, we are asking that you immediately reach out to the deans of other top business schools to release a joint public statement denouncing this executive order.” As of this writing, the letter had garnered 1,000 student signatures.

The University of California, of which Berkeley Haas is a part, came out in defense of its diverse student body even before Trump took office and well in advance of this week’s executive order. In a Nov. 30 statement, the university pledged to protect undocumented members of its community, going as far as to say that it would direct its police departments not to undertake joint efforts with any government agencies to enforce federal immigration law. “While we still do not know what policies and practices the incoming federal administration may adopt, given the many public pronouncements made during the presidential campaign and its aftermath, we felt it necessary to reaffirm that UC will act upon its deeply held conviction that all members of our community have the right to work, study, and live safely and without fear at all UC locations,” UC President Janet Napolitano said as part of that statement.

Executive MBA Class of 2017 President Eli Andrews was so inspired by that stance that he wanted to find a way to support it, “not just in spirit but in deeds,” he says. He and some fellow EMBA students are in the early stages of exploring an idea to support UC Berkeley’s undocumented students. Their idea—the EMBA Run for the Fun[d]—would be a combination race, social event and opportunity for students, alumni and Bay Area community members to convene and show that they are proud of the university’s leadership on immigration. Entrance fees and other proceeds from the event would go into a UC Berkeley Fund for Undocumented Students, Andrews explains. The goal would be to net a minimum of $250,000 from donations and event profits—the amount required to establish an endowed UC Berkeley fund that would live on in perpetuity and grant scholarships to undocumented students every year. “This is the legacy that we seek as the EMBA Class of 2017,” he says.

Though the idea was hatched before Trump’s executive order, recent developments have only helped it gather steam. “Especially since the executive order, we have a lot of momentum and interest and passion around supporting this,” Andrews says.

In addition to expressing interest in getting involved with the fund, Andrews’ classmates have also shown an outpouring of concern for him personally, he shares. “I have in-laws who are from Syria, and they would be in detention right now if they weren’t already here,” he explains. Fortunately, they arrived a few months ago. “I have had so many people checking in to make sure my extended family is okay and not affected by this.”

Though stressing that he doesn’t speak for his entire class or for all of Haas, Andrews says he has witnessed among many a sense of responsibility to stand up and say something. “It’s really not about politics for us,” he says. “There are just some lines that have been crossed on the most fundamental levels about human respect and decency that don’t know political divides,” he says. Yes, he knows people have opted to give to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and he himself planned to head out to the airport that night. “But collectively, as a group of bright and connected people with ideas, we have a responsibility to do something more.”

immigrant ban
Haas Dean Rich Lyons responds to MBA student letter

Safari and others like her impacted by recent events have been overwhelmed by the support of their classmates, who have shared her story, called their representatives and signed their names to the letter to Dean Lyons. “My Haas community also supported me on a personal level, from phone calls and text messages to inviting me to their homes and even bringing dinner to my place!” she shares.

“I feel vulnerable, rejected and worried about an uncertain future,” she says. “The only thing I can take comfort in throughout this whole situation is the power of the people, picking up their phones, going to protests and raising awareness. This is the only signal that tells me I’m not alone, and that I have the right to be here as much as anyone else.”

On Tuesday evening (Jan. 31), Lyons made clear his support for Safari and others who have been unfairly impacted by this situation. He sent the following message to the Haas community:

“Over 1000 of you have signed a letter denouncing the President’s recent executive order on immigration and requesting that I reach out to deans of other business schools to speak out jointly against it and the negative effect it is having on management education and on business more generally in the US. I am writing to confirm that I have reached out to a number of other deans and that I will continue to support the effort. I will keep you posted.”

We will stay tuned.