2017-02-09 / Around Town

Campus Rallies for Syrian Students

Salve Regina condemns Trump’s immigration policies
By Olga Enger

As the country continues to wrangle over President Trump’s immigration policies, two Salve Regina University students are handing the campus a bullhorn.

“I want to make sure we aren’t being a silent campus. We need to talk about things that are important,” said Marrissa Ballard, a senior at the school.

Together with Salve junior Skyla Hudson, she has organized a “No Ban, No Wall” rally for Friday, Feb. 10, at 2 p.m. in the DiStefano Lecture Hall in the Antone Academic Center.

The students planned the rally after Salve president Jane Gerety sent the campus an email opposing Trump’s executive order, which denied individuals from seven predominately Muslim countries from entering into the United States.

Salve enrolls approximately 35 international students at the undergraduate and graduate levels who are on non-immigrant F-1 student visas. Three of those students are from Syria, one of the countries targeted by Trump’s order.

“I hope those students feel the rally demonstrates that they have support on this campus, that they bring a lot to their community, and that we want to help them and support them,” Ballard said.

In October, Newport This Week sat down with Salve junior Araz Khajarian to learn about her journey to Newport from her war-torn home of Damascus, Syria.

“One of our classmates was shot walking to school,” said Khajarian. “Four of us would commute together in a car. Each day, we guessed which roads were safe. We might have heard there were snipers on a road, so we would take another route. One day, bullets shattered our rear window. We had a lot of close calls.”

Khajarian discovered a program established for Syrian students through the Institute of International Education, which offers scholarships to students whose education has been interrupted by the war.

She risked her life commuting back and forth to sporadically functioning institutions to obtain the necessary paperwork and official translations. With the U.S. Embassy in Syria shut down, she traveled with her mother to Lebanon to interview for the student visa. When she was rejected the first time, she risked her life once again and returned for a second interview and was approved.

Now, her future is uncertain.

“Our students from Syria are affected by the ban insofar as they can no longer go home or anywhere outside the U.S.,” said Aida Neary, assistant director, International Student and Exchange Partner Programs. “So the effect on the students is very real. But in addition to the toll being practical, it is also deeply emotional. There is a cruelty to the executive order that is impossible to explain to the students. So for now we support them and continue to monitor the situation.”

Salve has joined many universities across the country in denouncing Trump’s immigration policies, including every college in Rhode Island.

“I rely on my commitment to Salve’s mission statement that describes ours as a community that welcomes people of all beliefs, a community that seeks wisdom and promotes universal justice…. I encourage all of you to join me in whatever way you can in doing this good, hard work, both here at Salve and in the wider communities to which you belong,” Gerety wrote to students.

The rally will host a speaker series and participants are encouraged to bring signs that express their opinions.

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