Image taken by me, March 12th, 2017
January 27th, 2017 is a day that will live in infamy. It was on this day that President Donald J. Trump signed into law his first (of several) travel bans targeted toward Muslim majority countries. Here in Stone Mountain, Georgia, I sat in front of the television screen feeling the same tightness in my chest that I had whenever the bully seemed to prevail in the movies. So many questions raced through my head: will my friends be able to see their parents again? How would they continue their education? Would families be torn apart, despite years of building roots in this nation? What I notice, in retrospect, is that I hadn’t realized just how personal (or how transformative) this issue was going to become for me.
Each year, Agnes Scott sends a cohort of first-year students overseas to get a sense of the wider world, and to gain a better understanding of what it means to be a global citizen. I was extremely excited about travelling to Morocco, my assigned “Global Journeys” destination. As a Muslim woman growing up in a Christian society, it seemed like the opportunity of a lifetime to see what it was like when the dynamics shifted. But when the aforementioned travel ban was issued, my entire family (extended included) rallied against the idea of me leaving the country. Despite my African American race and American passport, the fear still remained that because of profiling, it could prove dangerous or risky for me to go. So after an entire semester of studying and preparing, the dream was shattered.
After hearing of my Global Journeys fiasco, the ASC Center for Civic, Community, and Global Engagement approached me with a proposition: in lieu of the Morocco experience, I would instead spend my spring break in Washington D.C., volunteering with the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) and lobbying on Capitol Hill for international education with the National Association for International Educators (Better known as NAFSA). I was so charged up and overjoyed by this opportunity, I could barely contain myself! I spent the next few weeks studying homelessness, homeless citizens rights, international education, and the DACA program. All of this research served as powerful tools when I finally made it up to D.C. At the NCH, I was able to gain a better understanding of how people in this country are so susceptible to homelessness, and what factors contribute to their quality of life (or lack thereof). I was able to make phone calls and coordinate with local leadership to energize advocacy efforts on their behalf, particularly when it came to their voting rights. When lobbying for international education, I was able to bring the stories of people I knew were personally affected by the travel ban and the proposed border wall to Congress members and staffers alike, and advocate for the support of making American education a more globally enriching experience.
When the travel ban was issued and I thought that I would be spending my break at home, I felt as though I powerless and unable to make a change. But being up in Washington D.C., a city where the history and electricity is almost palpable, I realized that fights like these were not new, nor were they going to be won overnight. If I want to ensure that students who come from around the world in pursuit of something more have an opportunity to learn and live in peace, it is truly up to me to be a change agent and use the resources I have at hand to make a difference.