Immigration ban impacts Iowa State


Alex Connor/Iowa State Daily

Wesley Harris Jr. addresses a crowd of Ames community members and students as they prepare to march across campus on Thursday afternoon. The march, dubbed Hoodies and Hijabs Solidarity March, began at the Memorial Union and ended just outside Parks Library. 

Jacey Goetzman

Lincoln is his first name, but he doesn’t go by that.

Wesley Harris, a graduate student in higher education administration, was born in North Carolina. Harris grew up in in the period following the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

Growing up black and the son of a Muslim in the so-called Bible Belt, Harris was subjected to racist and Islamophobic comments.

“I was afraid to tell people that my father was Muslim if they didn’t already know,” Harris said. “I heard classmates, I heard teachers, I heard members of the community where I grew up spout fallacies as if they were fact,” Harris said.

Each experience affected him.

Harris remembers being called the n-word, the stories of his family living under the Jim Crow laws and getting into fights on football fields because people were using slurs or throwing rocks at the team’s bus.

Lincoln may be his first name, but Harris doesn’t go by that.

“As I’ve grown older, I’ve specifically gone by Wesley,” Harris said.

That change has been intentional.

There is a love-hate relationship with that name, he said. Many Americans in the South use names such as Lincoln as an homage of sorts for the Emancipation Proclamation.

“[Lincoln] is known for the Emancipation Proclamation. Everybody kind of leaves it as this, ‘Lincoln was [a] great man, he was a great president because he effectively ended slavery in the United States,'” Harris said. “But we tell it as if he did it because of this high moral standing that he had when, in actuality, it was more to do with economics and trying to win votes.”

When 9/11 occurred, Harris was a freshman at Wake Forest University.

In 2012, after the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Shaima Alawadi, the idea of “Hoodies and Hijabs” sprang up from Wake Forest University.

When President Donald Trump ordered a travel ban on immigrants from seven predominately Muslim countries, Harris remembered the 2012 protest and knew his first step was to host a discussion among those impacted and interested.

“I was concerned. I sent out a message saying, ‘Hey, if folks are interested in getting together, let’s have a conversation about this,'” Harris said. “Let’s brainstorm some ways that we can effect change.”

It started out as a Facebook message. Some of those involved were the Black Graduate Student Association, the Muslim Student Association, the Iranian Students and Scholars Association and the Arab Student Association.

Then, it turned into an actual conversation.

“I went in with an open mind. I didn’t want to say, ‘this is exactly what we’re going to do,’ because my identities don’t align with the identities of some of the folks who are impacted,” Harris said. “I didn’t want to center myself […] I wanted it to truly be a conversation.”

Harris grounded his intention in the conversation to amplify the voice and experience of the students, scholars and community members who are most immediately impacted. They went around the room, providing introductions and their motivation for coming to the conversation.

One thing was clear: if some action and event came from the conversation, then great. But if it was something that just got the conversation started on the Iowa State campus, Harris would have been equally pleased.

When the event, which originated in Wake Forest University, was proposed, the wheels began turning.

“I shared the example of ‘Hoodies and Hijabs,'” Harris said, “There were lots of ideas about ways to do it.”

They talked about different locations on campus, the impact of those locations, and where the most effective location may be due to high traffic areas. Ultimately, they decided to start in front of the Memorial Union on a paved path, as the group wanted those who might have a disability to be able to navigate the march with them.

The march was not their only concern – there was also a letter written to President Steven Leath and higher administration.

“There are students who could have been our peers who will, potentially, not come here because of [the executive order],” Harris said. “There are folks who are already here who are weighing their options and saying, ‘Do I want to stay in this community? What does this mean for me? I came here to get an education […] And now, I’m being put in a spot where it’s made in no uncertain terms that I am not welcome here.'”

Harris wants to hold the administration and the Iowa State University community responsible.

“In our letter, we wanted to make sure that the university knows there are certain expectations. When you invite people into a community, you have to treat them like members of the community,” Harris said. “You need to not just say, ‘we’ll follow the law.’ Because slavery was legal. The Holocaust was legal. Legality is not a measure of morality.”

Harris, and others, are calling for the administration to be held accountable. Over 300 people have signed the letter.

They want questions answered: What does it look like when students from the banned countries have family that want to visit? When scholars want to go to conferences? When students want to visit family likewise?

How will the Iowa State administration accommodate these concerns?

“Iowa State has to be honest about how some of the university was started, how [we have had] some of the exclusionary policies that have existed in the past,” Harris said.

Likewise, we need to be honest when recruiting, across identities, across religions, and so on.

“We have to name white supremacist messaging as such. We can’t call it alt-right, we can’t call it white heritage. You have to be willing to name things,” Harris said.

Harris added that in “Cyclone Nation,” Iowa State proclaims to be one, and to be united as Cyclones.

“But we don’t typically operate that way in our everyday practice,” Harris said.

Harris said that the students impacted have already committed to Iowa State – and now Iowa State’s administration needs to commit to protecting them.

“The march is about centering the experiences of those who have been impacted,” Harris said.

The march changed based on feedback from their initial conversation.

“We recognize that there are things we have the privilege to be able to say as U.S. citizens,” Harris said, “and [we] want to make sure that our message is in support of those who don’t have the same ability or protections from the law.”

For those directly impacted, Harris had one hope for what they may feel with the march.

“[I want them to know that] they’re not alone. We’re here,” Harris said. “I’m glad that people from all over the world are coming to the United States to study, to work, to live, to raise families, to build community. I’ve enjoyed my time having faculty and peers, colleagues, who are from all over the world. I think that’s the beauty of having diversity in the classroom.”