During the first week of February, the University of Tulsa’s Department of Communication released a statement concerning President Donald Trump’s travel ban, which has recently complicated international travel in the United States. Trump’s executive order temporarily suspended travel for people with visas from seven countries into the United States, as well as halted the inflow of new (mostly Syrian) refugees.
A federal judge voted in favor of Washington and Minnesota’s lawsuits that called for a halt in enforcement of the executive order. With all the controversy, the Department of Communication felt that it was time to start a conversation with students and the community at large.
The statement was undersigned by the department’s five full-time professors: Dr. John Coward, Dr. Benjamin Peters, Dr. Joli Jensen, Dr. Justin Rawlins and Department Chair Dr. Mark Brewin. No other faculty read or participated in the writing of the statement, which was released shortly after Trump’s executive order.
Dr. Rawlins brought up the idea of releasing a statement with the Department of Communication, and the department began working on a draft shortly after President Clancy sent out an email to the student body.
Clancy’s message, sent on January 29, encouraged the student body to support one another and stressed that TU stands behind its students and its work towards international scholarship.
The department’s statement began by noting that, in light of Trump’s temporary travel restrictions, the professors would like to reaffirm their commitment to people of all walks of life, particularly people from “war-torn states such as Syria.”
Next, they write that as their professions suggest, they are committed to communicating and to limiting barriers in pursuit of communication and a better world; that immigration has historically been and should continue to be the foundation of the United States; that government should make what laws they see fit to protect the state within reason, but to be mindful of the impact of those laws; and that diversity is important, and to that end, differences should spark conversation instead of anger. The full statement is posted in the department’s lobby in Oliphant Hall.
When asked whether there was a relationship between the statement and the fact that it was voiced and signed by the full-time communication faculty, Dr. Peters agreed that there was a link between the two.
“We seek to model communication as not just teachers but also practitioners of communication,” he said, going on to reference James Carey, a lauded communication theorist “who thought of the practice and theory of the field as endless and generative conversations, and that’s how we want the department and nation to work as well.”
He believes that the communication department’s message is applicable in light of Trump’s executive order. Executive orders bypass the democratic element of most decision-making in the US, which can cause shock and fear.
He went on to contextualize the statement not just for the department, but for TU. “In a flagship research university looking for a more international and global future,” Dr. Peters explained, “it would be irresponsible if we didn’t take proactive stances on who can come to America and why.”
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals voted on the Feb. 9 to uphold a stay of enforcement on Trump’s executive order. While President Trump took to Twitter to announce that the legal battle was not over, for now travel has resumed. The effects of the ban are still felt, and the Department of Communication’s statement remains relevant.
Dr. Peters recalled a friend of his who came to the US five years ago from a Syria that was still in the early stages of its civil war. The friend had hoped to save enough money as a taxi driver to visit Syria and his family soon. Instead, he finds himself unsure of his ability to return should he leave the country that he loves so dearly.
“His patriotism for this country no longer seems to count because he hails from a different country, and that fact hurts everyone,” Dr. Peters said of his Syrian friend, who loves Clint Eastwood and embraces his life in America wholeheartedly. Dr. Peters went on to note that not only was the executive order personal for him, but for many of the Department of Communication faculty.
Dr. Peters pointed to immediacy of the issue as the drive behind the department’s statement: to create the opportunities for community and conversation among students and the Tulsa community at large.