Committed to International Diversity

With all the attention being devoted in recent weeks to the assassination of Suleimani and potential war with Iran, to Ukraine and impeachment, and to China and the coronavirus, it’s easy to lose sight of an isolationist trend in Washington worrisome in its own right. Although not everyone who wants to “make America great” means to cut it off from the rest of the world, the current regime’s isolationist instincts are powerful, persistent and perverse.

This came home to me during my recent trip to India to visit with Wesleyan families and to talk with prospective liberal arts students. Many told me that the United States seems less welcoming than before, and concerned parents wondered whether their children would feel at home in a country that seemed determined to cast foreigners in a harsh light. In some cases, they were attuned to this hostility because they saw their own government in Delhi using similar tactics. I tried to assure them that most Americans were open to meeting foreigners and that our traditions of hospitality remain strong. But they contrasted the current US climate with what they see in Canada, and to some extent in Australia.

Here at Wesleyan, we have a long tradition of collaboration with scholars and teachers from outside the United States. Nobel Prize winning chemist Satoshi Omura still looks back on his time as a researcher at Wes as formative to his experiments in developing new medicines from organic materials. African drummers like Abraham Adzenyah, Javanese gamelan virtuosos like Sumarsam, and dancers like Eiko Otake, have made Wes their home for decades because of its open learning environment, one that cultivates respect for tradition as well as enthusiasm for innovation. I proudly told my interlocutors in India about our longstanding Navaratri Festival of music and dance, and about the recent book by Hari Krishnan on how Bollywood creatively appropriated those traditions.

Shortly after I returned to campus, the Trump administration announced a new set of travel restrictions on people coming to the US. On Jan. 31 the President signed a proclamation banning visa applications from Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar and Nigeria. The reason given was that these countries presented risks because of their security procedures and information sharing. The administration’s announcement also included harsh immigration restrictions for people from Sudan and Tanzania.

The announcement is of a piece with the administration’s goal to restrict immigration of (almost) all kinds. For months in 2019, it refused to sign off on a new framework for refugees – the result being that in October ZERO refugees were legally admitted to the US. That’s the first time a month went by without the US providing legal refuge to someone. When President Trump eventually approved a legal ceiling for those seeking refuge here, it was for a mere 18,000 refugees, an all-time low. Even the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page complained in regard to the latest executive order that “punishing innocent people trying to come to America legally undermines Mr. Trump’s claim that he opposes illegal immigration, not immigrants more broadly.”

At Wesleyan, we value the vibrant, cosmopolitan community that we build in Middletown. About 15% of our students come from outside the US, and we cherish the opportunities to learn from one another. Rather than blocking off parts of the world from interactions with Americans, we believe in building positive, effective interconnectivity. Rather than refusing to listen to others we perceive as different from ourselves, we should cultivate the sharing of stories as a path to a broader more powerful education.

Let’s take Ahmed Badr’s ’20 Narratio project as our inspiration. Ahmed came to the US as a refugee from Baghdad and will graduate from Wesleyan in May. Determined to empower others, he created Narratio which invites youth around the world to share their stories  through the publishing of poetry, photography, art and narrative. Already Narratio has published 300+ works across 18+ countries.

Let’s push back against the anti-immigrant, anti-refugee messages coming from Washington. And let’s remember to listen to one another’s stories – lending an ear with special care to those that may come from faraway places.




Celebrating Ahmed Badr and International Leadership

Ahmed Badr ’20 (front right)

Ahmed Badr ’20 has been selected by the United Nations as one of 17 Young Leaders for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), class of 2018.

The UN Young Leaders Initiative is a flagship initiative led by the Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth. The Young Leaders have been recognized for their leadership and contribution to a more sustainable world. They will come together as a community to support efforts to engage other young people in realizing the Sustainable Development Goals through strategic opportunities with the UN and through their existing initiatives, platforms and networks. Specifically, they will advocate publicly for the goals in ways that are relatable to young people; promote innovative ways of engaging audiences in the advocacy and realization of the goals; and contribute to a brain trust of young leaders supporting the UN and partners for key moments and initiatives related to the goals.

There are 17 Sustainable Development Goals, including no poverty; zero hunger; quality education; gender quality; affordable and clean energy; climate action; and peace, justice and strong institutions, among others.

Ahmed was invited to attend the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly, which took place Sept. 21–27 in New York. The Young Leaders class of 2018 was officially announced on the sidelines of the High-Level General Debate during the General Assembly.

Ahmed is part of the second class of Young Leaders chosen by the UN. This year, over 8,046 young people from 184 countries applied to the program. The selection was based on the candidates’ records of “demonstrated achievements and impact to sustainable development” as well as their “proven leadership and ability to inspire others.”

Ahmed is a junior at Wesleyan, studying anthropology and pursuing independent projects as an Allbritton Fellow and Patricelli Center Fellow. He was born in Iraq and in 2008 came to the United States as a refugee, after his family’s home in Baghdad was bombed by militia troops. While adjusting to life in the U.S., he started a personal blog to write about his journey—an experience he found “incredibly empowering.” Determined to empower others, he created Narratio to publish written work by young people around the globe. Badr leads creative storytelling workshops for youth around the country, including one with high school students in Wesleyan’s Upward Bound Math-Science program. Narratio has been recognized by the UN, We are Family Foundation, and featured on NPR and Instagram.

Please join me in congratulating Ahmed Badr!