Dear Willamette community,
Many of you may have seen a letter being circulated by our students expressing their shock and outrage over the recent travel ban on citizens from seven majority-Muslim nations, implemented by executive order by President Trump. Joining thousands of other voices raised in protest, these students exemplify the Willamette motto, Not unto ourselves alone are we born.
As I stated in my letter on Sunday evening (included below), I find these actions troubling and contrary to American values, targeting individuals legally traveling to our country solely on the basis of their religion and national origin.
We are a community with varied political beliefs, and the University does not take political stands, but individuals within the University do. My personal belief is that the manner of action makes this a moral issue. I am deeply discouraged by the willingness of our political leaders to abruptly disrupt lives and tear families asunder.
It is also an issue with special resonance in higher education, where we know the free travel of individuals supports the free exchange of ideas. I have been in higher education a long time: long enough to have been involved as a graduate student in meetings organized in support of Soviet scientists not allowed to travel to the West, and long enough to have been a leader in the University of California in opposition to national-origin limitations on research that the federal government attempted to impose after 9/11. I am dismayed that the current administration has not learned from past mistakes.
As I noted in my message to the community in November immediately following the presidential election, Willamette is committed to equity and inclusion that seeks to make all feel safe and welcome. Willamette has always been a place where the doors of opportunity are open. Diversity and inclusivity are not only the cornerstones of excellence in education; they are distinctive parts of our American heritage.
There is still much that is uncertain, with courts weighing in to limit the order and perhaps ultimately overturn it. We must all continue to work to support those affected, not just at Willamette but in all of our communities.
Next week, I plan to join Vice President Ed Whipple’s meeting with student leaders to discuss their thoughts and actions they would like to take in response to these critical issues. I am encouraged by what I hear from students directly affected by the ban. One student, sharing very personal thoughts about how the order has hurt him and his family, also made a particular point of expressing to me his happiness with the support he has received from his colleagues and professors, and the honor he felt to be part of this community. I too am proud to be part of this great community and the way we continue to strive to live our motto in service to the world and each other.
Message from President Thorsett to the campus community, Sunday, January 29:
In the wake of this weekend’s surprising and disturbing executive order from President Donald Trump barring entry to the United States for citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries, a number of members of our community have raised both general concerns and specific questions about the safety and security of members of our community.
First, let me reaffirm that Willamette’s policy on nondiscrimination protects all regardless of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, marital status, veteran status, actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or status with regard to pregnancy, disability or age. This policy is an expression of deeply held values.
This weekend, we saw challenges to very long-standing American principles of nondiscrimination on the basis of religion and national origin. While multiple federal courts are now involved, and the long-term impact remains unclear, for now many individuals and families, including those with visas and green cards as well as refugees, have seen their lives disrupted.
As the larger issues play out, I want to assure you that our current students from these countries are safe on campus, although in at least one case travel plans for study abroad have had to be canceled. If anyone is aware of any other students, faculty, or staff who are affected or who need support, please direct them to my office or that of Carol Long. The Chaplains can also always provide confidential support.
As many of you know, the legal clinic in the College of Law has added immigration expertise this semester. There and elsewhere we will continue to explore how the university can support those affected. Discussions are also underway in various forums about how the larger higher ed community can make our concerns known in ways that might have maximum impact. While my immediate focus is necessarily on our students and staff, I also encourage those concerned to reach out to families in need in your local communities.