UMatter at UMass: Feature Story

UMatter at UMass

A hulking figure dressed head to toe in a Captain America uniform could be spotted outside of the student union at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst on Friday, February 17th. What was Captain America doing at UMass Amherst an outsider might wonder? The answer to this question lays in the colorful chalk messages covering the ground outside the building. “Immigrants. We get the job done,” a particularly vibrant one reads.

  With its diverse community of more than 30,00 students, faculty, and staff-the fear being spread as a result of Donald Trump’s immigration ban is felt widely at UMass Amherst.

  “I will do everything in my power to support and protect every member of our diverse campus community,” said UMass Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy in his email to the community on February 2nd  in response to the immigration ban.

  The Chancellor has highlighted some initiatives that the University will be taking to support students during this time. This includes joining a lawsuit with the American Civil Liberties Union and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts disputing the overall constitutionality of the ban, establishing an “Angel Fund” to financially support students who have been affected by the ban, and creating a task force to provide information and additional support to those affected.

  To many students, especially those who have ethnic roots in the banned countries or who practice Islam, this is not enough for them to feel safe on campus.

  Bahiya Nasuuna, a senior at UMass majoring in public health and member of the Muslim Student Association, thinks UMass should be a designated sanctuary campus.

  “I believe that the Chancellor and UMass should make this a sanctuary campus. There’s no reason for us to ignore students who are international and maybe grew up in these countries…As a community we should stand up for them,” she said.

  Nasuuna is not alone in this belief. On February 3rd, clusters of students waving signs with mitten-clad hands gathered outside of the Student Union, it was the UMass Amherst Sanctuary movement meeting for a protest. The Sanctuary movement advocates for UMass administration to follow the path of universities such as Wesleyan and the University of California schools and designate the school as a sanctuary campus. To become a sanctuary campus the school would need to make a statement saying they will protect students by not giving ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, local police, or federal law officials student information about citizenship. Therefore protecting students against deportation.

  However, making UMass a sanctuary campus could be problematic. The term “sanctuary campus” is not legally protected and would not stand up as a defense in a courtroom. If the UMass Sanctuary Movement achieved their goal, students may develop a false sense of security on campus.

  On Friday February 17th, there was another protest advocating for a sanctuary campus led by the organization. Classrooms were emptier than usual as many of the students involved did not attend and only made purchases from student run businesses on campus. This is what “a day without immigrants” looks like, protesters said.

For some students, open discussions and communication about the issue in classrooms is something they feel is necessary.

  “None of my professors have talked about it. I haven’t even been thinking about how it might be affecting students here, it seemed much further away than that. There has been a protest going on almost everyday but only small groups of students know what it is actually about …I think it should be more widespread and talked about more”, student Shannon Casey, a junior at UMass and Communication major, said.

  Members of the Muslim Student Association are working on ideas that would open discussions campus-wide and inform members of the student body who are not as well versed in the subject as others. Generally, the Association remains positive and encouraged due to the block of the ban that has been put in place by federal judge James Robart.

    Ahmad Hamssa is a junior at UMass majoring in civil engineering. He is also a member of the Muslim Student Association and he is Sudanese. Sudan is on the list of seven countries that Trump banned.

   “I look forward to working with people on campus to see what we can do to make it more inclusive…Because the ban has been blocked as a result of protesting it gives me confidence in what we can do,” he says with a smile. “The fact that they are here and supporting us, that is enough. A lot of it is our responsibility, those of us affected by it… It is up to us to take charge and host an event and we can easily do it. What is clear to me is that UMass supports us and to get that support is great”, finished Hamssa.

     As Trump’s immigration enforcement policies continue to surge, documents released by the White House on February 21 disclose the presidents ambitions to crackdown hard on undocumented immigrants, we can expect to see an increase of student support protests across college campuses.

 “What’s that thing written on the Statue of Liberty? On the bottom? Give me your huddled masses? Whatever it is, that’s why immigration is important. Our country was built on it. We are all descended from immigrants,” said Casey.

            The quote on the Statue is from the poem “New Colussus” by Emma Lazarus and it reads, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Learn more about Sudanese student Ahmad Hamssa and his family in the audio clip below.

What I Learned About Covering Trumps Immigration Ban

What I Learned About Covering Trumps Immigration Ban

    Thinking and learning about this prevelant issue over the course of the past few weeks has led me to understand the extent of the sensitivity of the immigration issue. Covering this issue opened my eyes to the modern immigrant experience.I am grateful to have had the opportunity to learn more about the topic of the immigration ban from people who experience the backlash of it firsthand.It gave me an opportunity to hear what it is like to be from a culture that is frequently disrespected and used as a scapegoat by people in power. It is an issue that is deeply felt on a personal level by those who are immigrants or those who come from immigrant families. It is especially something that is felt by those who are from, or who have family who are from, the seven countries that Trump has banned.

  I emailed as many students whose nationality fall under these seven countries that i could find contact information for. Only one of those students responded to me. I understand the unresponsiveness and cannot blame them. Already, Trump has taken big strides to enforce deportation, as detailed by this New York Times Article. Students fear that if they speak out about the ban, their families may be targeted. People who were hoping to seek refuge in America have already been prevented from entering the country, as detailed by this article from CNN. The sensitivity of this issue alerted me to proceed with caution, understanding, and kindness when speaking to potential interviewees in order to avoid inadvertently offending anyone.

   In addition to coming to terms with the sensitivity of the topic, I also learned that immigration, even more so in regards to what is happening with the ban, is as complicated as it is sensitive. I learned more about the reason why it is currently so complicated. That reason has a lot to do with out current president. I read an article from the Atlantic called, “The Mind of Donald Trump”. I found that it helped me to understand why he is the way he is, why he is taking such drastic actions in regard to immigration, and why he has such an effect on the people around him. I learned to stay as informed as possible on the issue and read news about it every day. This way I ensured I knew my subject well and was able to stay on top of the information I was covering. It also helped me avoid sounding phony to the people I interviewed since I actually was well rehearsed on the matter at hand.

  Another major thing I learned while covering immigration is the importance of being prepared for an interview. This importance grows with the relevance of the issue at hand. Since immigration is extremely relevant, preparedness was an importance factor I considered. One of the students I interviewed for my story was Sudanese. I was worried that if I did not know enough about him beforehand I may possibly offend him by making assumptions about his culture or how the ban has affected him. To ensure that I did not appear disrespectful I looked up the correct pronunciation of his name beforehand, double checked his nationality, and looked up a brief history on Sudan. I did research to find out his major as well as what organizations he was part of on campus. The interview went well and I was happy that I did my research beforehand, especially when he told me people often make assumptions about him just because he is Sudanese. If I had not prepared myself for the interview I could have accidentally offended him by coming off as ignorant. I often used Poynter’s, “How Journalists Can Become Better Interviewers”, as a reference point to look back at when I mulled over the interview process.

   Finally, with this story. I learned how important it is as a journalist to be aware and ready to observe. Aware of what is going on in the world as well as what is happening on your own college campus. The American Press Institute explains in this article, how journalists must be committed observers who observe the community from a different perspective. If I had not been alert and keeping my eyes peeled for events related to immigration happening on campus I would never have heard about the UMass Sanctuary Movement. I never would have been able to attend and observe one of their rallies. I never would have gone to a discussion hosted by a panel of journalism professors discussing the failures of the profession during the Trump era. If I had not been reading the news everyday and keeping up to date on the immigration topic then I would have been ill-informed for my article and it would show through my writing. If I had not been aware and in class everyday, then I would not even know what I was doing with this entire project!

    Being aware is also something that helps you to gain new contacts and potential subjects for stories. Going to events, talking to people, and networking are all things that are necessary to writing a good in-depth story. These things can seem daunting to people such as myself who are naturally introverted and quiet. After covering this topic and attending more events, contacting more people, and reaching out more than I ever have before in relation to a story, I find that it now seems a lot less intimidating to me. From now on I will continue to tell myself that it could benefit my story in the long run and even if it does not end up being essential to my story-it is good practice for the future.