In response to the March 6 Executive Order on foreign national entry into the United States, the University of Rhode Island’s Office of Community, Equity and Diversity, as well as the Office of External Relations and Communications hosted a town hall public forum on March 22 to address resources and strategies for support immigrant students, faculty and staff.

President David Dooley gave opening remarks, emphasizing that “we continue to live in a very, very uncertain time, and we continue to live with a variety of challenges for members of our community, that are not of our making, but for which we have to contend.”

Dooley reminds the members of our community that the revised travel ban “for institutions like the University of Rhode Island, represents a serious challenge and seriously compromises our ability to do our job and fulfill our mission.”

“As a global research university,” Dooley said. “It is imperative that we continue to interface with the entire world and that we recruit students here from all over the world and continue to send our students from here all over the world.”

Dooley said, “I will continue to advocate strongly for more reasonable, rational approaches to the issues we all face and seek to encourage the new administration to develop policies, procedures and expectations as well as communication strategies, that frankly, facilitate our mission and facilitate what I think America’s role has traditionally been as a great haven for scholars from everywhere as a place where free inquiry and freedom of speech are very critically important and safe guarded.”

Many of our student body come from all over the world and call URI their second home. There are 861 international students, and ensuring the safety and comfort of such a large portion of our community is vital, according to Dooley.

“We are not going to back off from our efforts to bring students and faculty here from wherever,” explains President Dooley. “We think that that talent, those people can make a difference and continue to what we are trying to accomplish at the University of Rhode Island.”

In addition to our international undergraduates, we also have many international graduate students employed for the university. Danielle Dirocco, the Executive Director of Graduate Assistants United, oversees the 500 to 600 graduate students working for URI.

“A significant number of them, specifically those from Iran, have been directly impacted by this executive order” Dirocco said.

Which is why the department is “working to do our part to support our community, build our community, and to build family, particularly when our members are isolated from seeing their own families back home,” said Dirocco.    

Dirocco encouraged productive conversations that do not tolerate intolerance, and charged the student body with the responsibility of speaking up against injustices when we encounter them.

“One of the major responsibilities we have is to correct the record,” said Dirocco. “We have members who have been called ‘terrorists’ on this campus. That is not a moment to stand there and say ‘maybe I shouldn’t say something’. Speak up. Defend our community. This is our home and this is their home too.”

One of the speakers, Vanessa Garcia Polanco, explained that her biggest concern is that, as an immigrant, she is also an American. “I have all of my documentation, my proper documentation. But for many people we are always labeled as immigrants regardless of documented or fully integrated citizens in this society,” said Polanco.

Polanco reminds the community to recognize their privilege and to use that privilege as a platform to speak out and to actively make a difference. “My privilege,” Polanco says, “is I am an American citizen.”

As American citizens it is our responsibility to welcome, accept, and educate. Dooley continued his message that our community comes first.

“It won’t be as easy as it was a few months ago, but I remain hopeful that it will get easier with time as we resolve some of these issues, legally and otherwise.”

While the public forum served to educate and inform the public on resources, it also offered a message of hope. Dooley reminded the community that “most importantly, we don’t want to ever retreat from our core values of respecting all members of our community and welcoming all members to our community, supporting one another, encouraging one another, standing up for one another, and even when we disagree finding ways for us to work together collaboratively to do the very important work the University of Rhode Island is tasked to do.”

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