Let me start by saying I fully support liberal arts education, and I think discussion of other cultures in a university setting is important. Furthermore, I think our university educational system would be remiss if it did not make students critically consider problems in the world, not just our own country.
These things said, today I found myself in a classroom full of students discussing sex trafficking as it relates to cartels in Mexico. The class consists of privileged (mostly) white young students, myself included. Despite best intentions and usually productive conversation, somehow today we began equating the situation of drug lords and girls kidnapped by the cartels. Suddenly, I was snapped back to the reality that most of these people have no idea what they are talking about and simply want to say something so they get their participation points.
Don’t get me wrong, some comments were genuine–though I consider them misguided nonetheless. The situation of a kidnapped woman forced into sex work and a life she never wanted is not the same as a sicario who decided to join the system instead of fight it. But I digress, my focus in this editorial is misguided critical thinking within college classrooms. We often consider things we have no context for, after all most of us come from white middle-class Midwestern families, so that’s not the problem.
No, the problem is that often we don’t recognize our privilege and lack of knowledge. Then we consider heavy topics and pretend that we are the authorities on the ideas. We ask questions we don’t really care about the answers for. We give answers that are politically correct, and answers that we think others will agree with. No one wants to be wrong. In a different setting, one of the most useful pieces of advice I’ve ever been given is, “Fail is not a bad word. Fail just means you try again.” This is what should be applied to academia, not the mentality that it currently abides.
The United States has long been considered a great country to move to for education and opportunity. People also come to the States as refugees, seeking asylum from religious, ethic, or cultural persecution or fleeing national disasters. Even those coming from countries with temporary protected status found a place to make their own. But, under the current administration, it seems these people will no longer be welcome.
Recently, Salvadorans have fallen under our “very stable genius” leader’s keen eye. They face a hotly debated issue: loss of temporary protected status (TPS). Removing El Salvador from this list is a highly controversial decision for two reasons. First, the earthquakes that originally prompted the designation may have been dealt with, but there are other issues that have affected many refugees’ choice to stay in the US. Despite this, according to the official Homeland Security website “…The Secretary determined that the original conditions caused by the 2001 earthquakes no longer exist. Thus, under the applicable statute, the current TPS designation must be terminated.”
The second reason for controversy lies in the current issues in El Salvador, particularly gang violence, that can arguably be considered a direct result of US policy on deportation of criminally convicted refugees. MS-13 and Barrio 18 are among the most notorious gangs in the Americas, and they got their start right here in the US. Even before the loss of TPS, news outlets like NPR and the Associated Press were writing about the gang violence in El Salvador. Yet the current administration remains fixated on the “America First!” agenda.
On the back of this contemptible decision came the president’s infamous meeting with around 15 members of Congress to discussion DACA and immigration. Allegedly, President Trump referred to African nations as “shithole countries.” Though he has denied this in a series of tweets, the President is now receiving international backlash for bigotry and racism. Whether or not he really said “shithole countries,” the comment has thrown previous statements like those about Charlottesville into even sharper relief.
Under the Trump administration, the US is no longer a place that welcomes immigrants. Unless, of course, they come from Aryan countries. This nation of immigrants is slowly devolving into a nation led by bigots, and I fear we will only delve deeper into international ire as time goes on.