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.

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