BUCKHANNON — In the wake of President Donald Trump’s recently signed executive order that bans nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, local officials in the Upshur County community — as well as across the country — are standing up and speaking out.
Indeed, local responses reflect how deeply divided sentiments are across the country and the community.
The executive order, which was signed on Friday, Jan. 27, bans travel from Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, Libya and Yemen for a period of 90 days. Trending on Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets as #MuslimBan, the order also suspends all refugee admissions for 120 days with case-by-case exceptions — and bars the entry of Syrian refugees indefinitely.
Trump has argued that the “extreme vetting” will help keep “radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States.” The order has ignited protests across the country and spurred the leaders of many entities — particularly institutions of higher education — to speak out against the ban.
The executive order prompted interim West Virginia Wesleyan College president Boyd Creasman to issue a statement Monday reaffirming the college’s commitment to diversity and inclusivity.
“West Virginia Wesleyan affirms its commitment to respect people of all races, ethnicities, nations, faiths, genders and sexual orientations,” Creasman wrote. “We take pride in our affiliation with the United Methodist Church and share its values of ‘open hearts, open minds, open doors.’ We embrace our covenant with the people of West Virginia to share our resources and make our great state even better. The college has also benefitted for many years from the contributions of its international students, staff and faculty. Our understanding and appreciation of the world is deepened through their positive contributions to our community. We pledge our support to the international members of the Wesleyan family.”
“We call upon our fellow citizens to consider how closely Wesleyan’s students, faculty, staff and alumni reflect the values of our nation,” Creasman’s statement continues. “May the Orange Line continue to reach all around the globe, and may we all be touched, in Lincoln’s words, by ‘the better angels of our nature.’”
Wesleyan is keeping an eye on international students who are currently overseas. Rochelle Long, the college’s director of public relations, on Monday noted that, “There are a group of people monitoring all the international students traveling.”
Robbie Quarles, director of multicultural programs and services at Wesleyan, said that so far, no current Wesleyan students have been affected by the Jan. 27 executive order.
Wesleyan is just one of dozens of colleges and universities who have issued statements in support of inclusivity or in direct opposition to Trump’s travel ban. WVU held an open forum for all international faculty and students on Monday in the Mountainlair to answer questions and address concerns about the order. The same day, university president Gordon Gee wrote a letter to faculty, staff and students, in which he reiterated the university’s commitment to diversity.
“Our university is enriched by and appreciates the diverse talent, culture and contributions shared by our international faculty and students,” Gee wrote. “With more than 115 countries represented on our Morgantown campus, the world comes to West Virginia through our doors. And in return, the world meeting West Virginia when our faculty, staff and students travel outside our home among the hills. How we care for each other reflects not only the spirit of our institution, but indeed, our entire state.”
“As we empathize with all who are affected, let us also offer our support in every possible way,” Gee added. “And I ask that we be mindful of each other, and that we continue to treat each other with the respect, with civility and with the dignity that every human being deserves.”
L. Rafael Reif, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, had much harsher words for the executive order in a statement also released Monday. Noting that two undergraduate MIT students had been barred from re-entry into the U.S. because of the order, Reif called Trump’s actions “deeply disturbing.”
“The executive order on Friday appeared to me a stunning violation of our deepest American values, the values of a nation of immigrants: fairness, equality, openness, generosity, courage … how can we slam the door on desperate refugees?” Reif wrote. “Religious liberty is a founding American value; how can our government discriminate against people of any religion? In a nation made rich by immigrants, why would we signal to the world that we no longer welcome new talent?”
Harvard University President Drew Faust, in a letter to the campus community, stressed that it’s important to differentiate between terrorists and peaceful people of the Islamic faith.
“Let me also take this opportunity to note the anxieties and concerns prevalent among members of our community who are also members of the Islamic faith,” Faust wrote. “Ours is a nation founded and built on the bedrock of religious pluralism and religious freedom. Our university embraces that commitment, in the spirit not of mere tolerance but of genuine inclusion. We must not and will not conflate people of a venerable faith with people predisposed to acts of terrorism and violence.”
Yale University president Peter Salovey in a letter Sunday told the school’s community that, “We question the motivation underlying (the executive order) and recognize that it departs from long-standing policies and practices in our country.”
Outside the academic world, local government officials offered drastically different opinions on the travel ban, reflective of the deep political divide among the American public.
Buckhannon mayor David McCauley said the city is committed to the principles of competency, inclusivity, transparency and efficiency.
“I am mindful that as part of our community’s commitment to inclusivity, that we have residents who are white, black, Asian and Hispanic,” McCauley wrote in a statement released Monday. “We are blessed to have people who practice many faiths — including but not limited to Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus. Furthermore, Buckhannon has many residents who were not born in the United States. Handicapped people, elderly people and gay people live, work and play here among us. We are all equal under the law, and everyone’s perspective and feelings should be carefully considered as we grow and become better together as a diverse community. Our city shall be respectful of all persons — residents and visitors alike — and we shall not tolerate the actions of anyone who threatens any of our community members or visitors with intimidation, harassment or incivility of any kind.”
McCauley’s statement goes on to say that although the city cannot control what happens in the rest of the world or in Washington, D.C., Buckhannon will remain committed to inclusivity and civility.
“We shall be kind, supportive and nurturing toward all who enter our community — residents, college students and visitors,” he wrote. “We truly are all in this together.”
Although Terry Cutright, Upshur County Commission president, said the commission would not issue an official statement, he offered a personal comment on the travel ban, which contrasted with those issued by Wesleyan, McCauley and universities across the country.
Of Trump, Cutright said, “I think he’s doing exactly what he said he’s going to do. He’s making the United States safer. That’s why I voted for him. I don’t see a thing in the world wrong with him slowing things down to make sure we know who’s in the country. It would have been a good thing to do before 9/11, and we may not have had 9/11 if this had been in place.”
Commissioners Troy “Buddy” Brady and Sam Nolte declined to comment on the executive order.
To read the full text of the executive order, visit www.whitehouse.gov, click on “Presidential Actions” and scroll down to the link titled, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the Country.”