Dialogue for sanctuary - Open forum addresses political concerns, prejudice

Above: Forum members speak about cultural events to create more understanding and tolerance toward Muslims and other minority groups. Photo by Jeanine Hill.

By Daniel Steele

In one of many large, yet ordinary classrooms of the Health Science building, faculty and international students voiced their thoughts on the extraordinary political climate created by Donald Trump's executive orders and their impact on the school itself.

The open forum, held on Feb. 2, was initiated as an open dialogue for those with worry, anxiety or concerns to listen and converse in an understanding environment. Although the effects of Trump's nascent yet manic presidency were mentioned, discussion was centered largely on prejudice as a whole, often through anecdotes.

"We're in an age where discourse is no longer discourse," said Eric Bishop, vice president of student services. "We need to be in a place where we can have conversations, and everyone needs to be open to the idea of hearing all sides."

This was said partially in reference to the violent riots at UC Berkeley that hijacked an otherwise peaceful protest of guest speaker Milo Yiannopoulos, writer for the far-right website Breitbart.com.

Business instructor Carmen Talbert said she understands the right to freedom of speech, but asked whether it is okay if people's opinions harm those she loves.

"I'm tired of people who keep standing up for [hate speech]," she said. "I'm over it."

"Growing up as a Chicana here in southern California, nothing has changed," she added. "It's not Trump that we hate, it's what he represents."

One Muslim student, Wajeha Mahmoud, 19, told of her experience after she decided to wear a hijab in high school. Mahmoud doesn't have the skin tone that people stereotypically associate with Muslims. She said those around her would ask why her name looked the way it did because she looked white to them. Despite the questions, Mahmoud said she felt like everyone else.

"But when I started wearing a hijab is when it all clicked for me," she said. "I'm different."

Mahmoud could still vividly recall the first time she left the house in a hijab. She went to Walmart with her sister and immediately felt the shock of appearing different from those around her.

"I felt people's eyes on me," she said. "I didn't like it for a very long time, but it's become part of my identity and I'm very proud of [wearing] it."

During Trump's campaign, the number of anti-Muslim hate groups in the U.S. has nearly tripled from 34 in 2015 to 101 last year, according to a recent report by the Southern Poverty Law Center. These numbers reflect increased activity by the radical right bolstered by Trump's rhetoric and anti-Muslim immigration policy, now blocked by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Superintendent Henry Shannon gives his perspective growing up under Jim Crow in the south. Photo by Jeanine Hill.

The Trump administration has also focused on undocumented immigrants with the arrest of 600 people in the past week by ICE police forces across the U.S., including California. The arrests have put many undocumented immigrants and students on edge, but Kathy Lucero, director of admissions and records, urged faculty and students to let students know their private residential, financial and identification records are safe with the college.

"That info is not going to go anywhere, we're not going to turn it in to anyone," she said. "We're not going to turn in anyone's name or their parents to the government."

The next Governing Board meeting on Feb. 23 will discuss a new resolution to more firmly protect students and their families' records, including immigration status, from outside agencies. If adopted, the resolution will affirm current policy that requires a judicial warrant, subpoena or court order for any information to be given.

Campus police administrator Steve Lux also gave his input on protecting students, particularly with regards to profiling. He said campus police will do everything they can to protect students, regardless of who they are, but recognized the larger issue of officers profiling minorities.

"I was brought into a culture that was abusive to the community," he said, referring to his start in the police force in 1982. "It comes from the hierarchy, so it actually comes from me."

Lux doubts that prejudices can be trained out of officers, but he said they can address their own biases and be monitored and educated constantly to create fair policing.

Although there is fear and uncertainty among marginalized groups, and although there is concern among students and faculty at the open forum, protest and resistance to government policy brings hope to those like Mahmoud.

"Seeing how much support we get, that feels good," she said in reference to the protests in defense of Muslims at airports across the country. "I have a lot of faith in humanity."

Political action has also turned heads within Muslim majority countries themselves. One unnamed Iraqi working with the UN had this to say about the protests on Twitter:

"All you people at home need to know that the Arab and Muslim world is watching, and they are not only seeing the hatred and bigotry of our president and his supporters," she said. "They are also seeing the America that we love, the America that comes out to the streets for what's good and decent."

This story has been edited to fix the previous facts on the Governing Board's resolution. It was previously stated the resolution would enact a new policy to protect student information.