Two Clemson University professors plan to publicly fast for a week to press the university’s administration to take a stand against President Trump’s recent executive order barring the entry of immigrants and refugees from seven predominately Muslim countries.
Chenjerai Kumanyika and Todd May said they will begin “The Fast Against Silence” on Monday on the steps of Clemson’s prominent Sikes Hall.
The two professors have invited faculty, staff, students and members of the community to join the protest, which they plan to continue through Sunday.
“The university is simply not meeting its moral responsibilities to its students, its alumni and the field of higher education,” said May, a longtime Clemson professor of philosophy. “We really want to call attention to the necessity of meeting that responsibility.”
Clemson President Jim Clements, in a brief interview, said the university’s board avoids commenting on political issues.
“There’s always going to be an issue that comes out, and another one next week and another one next week,” Clements said.
“I’m happy to talk to the faculty, students and staff as I’ve done,” Clements said. “We had a whole bunch of information sessions this past week to talk about the executive order and what it means and to help the students, faculty and staff in any way that we can.”
Kumanyika said the two professors want to see Clemson’s administration join an increasing number of institutions, such as Wofford College, that have called on Trump to cancel his executive order.
“There’s a growing list of universities that have not just made a commitment to international students and scholars but have actually denounced the ban,” said Kumanyika, an assistant professor of communications.
Kumanyika noted that Clemson prides itself on being a world-class university with an international student body and faculty.
“This travel ban damages our ability to fulfill our mission in every way,” he said. “Clemson’s research status is contributed to significantly by international students.”
Kumanyika and May said they will fast 24 hours hours a day, drinking only water or juice during their protest.
Asked if their fast was physically dangerous, May responded, “No, the people who are in physical danger are the people who can’t get out of Syria because of the Trump administration’s policies.”
Many public and private American universities have called for an end to Trump’s executive order which temporarily halts refugee arrivals and blocks immigrants from seven majority Muslim nations.
The dozens of universities criticizing the travel ban include Boston University, Brown, Bucknell, the University of California system, Cornell, Duke, Harvard, the University of Illinois system, Indiana University, MIT, Oklahoma, Princeton, Stanford and Vanderbilt.
The two Clemson professors plan to protest on the steps of Sikes Hall between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Sikes Hall, where the president’s office is located, was the site of Clemson protests last year over racial tensions on campus.
Kumanyika will still teach his classes during daytime hours next week. May is on sabbatical.
“One of the two of us will be there (at Sikes Hall) all the time and both of us will be there most of the time,” May said.
Their fast also is intended to symbolically demonstrate sympathy with refugees fleeing war-torn Syria, May said.
“The symbolism of the fast is because there are people who are stuck in places like Aleppo (Syria), who are hungry, and they won’t be able to get to the U.S. because of U.S. policies, and we want to have that in people’s minds as well,” May said. “Fasting is a way of symbolically being in solidarity with people who are not symbolically hungry but actually hungry.”
Addressing the protest
Clemson University released a statement regarding the protest Friday afternoon from Mark Land, vice president for university relations:
“Diversity and inclusion are core values at Clemson and our international students, faculty and staff are deeply valued members of the Clemson community,” Land wrote. “In the days since the presidential order was issued, Clemson has focused on helping those within our community who have potentially been affected by the action.
“The university moved quickly to identify those individuals from the countries subject to the travel limitations so that it can provide assistance and answer questions as necessary. The university also scheduled four sessions this week, led by senior members of the administration, for any student, faculty or staff member who had questions about the executive order, or who wished to share their concerns about the order. Approximately 250 people attended these sessions, including many of those who potentially may be affected by the executive order.
“Clemson will continue to look for ways to support students, faculty and staff potentially affected by this situation.”
President Clements also signed a statement Friday on behalf of Clemson from the American Council on Education to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly expressing concern about Trump’s executive order, while stopping short of calling on it to be canceled.
In part, that statement reads:
“We take seriously the need to safeguard our nation and also the need for the United States to remain the destination of choice for the world’s best and brightest students, faculty, and scholars. International exchange is a core value and strength of American higher education. Moreover, our nation’s welcoming stance to scholars and scientists has benefited the U.S. through goodwill and a long history of scientific and technological advances that have been essential to the economic growth our country has experienced for decades. When they return home they are ambassadors for American values, democracy and the free market.
“Our nation can only maintain its global scientific and economic leadership position if it encourages those talented people to come here to study and work. America is the greatest magnet for talented people from around the world and it must remain so.”
Anderson Independent-Mail reporter Michael Eads contributed from Clemson University. Paul Hyde covers education and everything else under the South Carolina sun. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7.