Colgate and Central New York Defy Trump at Utica Rally

Reactions to President Trump’s executive order inhibiting individuals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the U.S. continues to reverberate around campus. On Friday, February 10, several students and faculty drove to Utica, NY and protested at a Refugee Solidarity Rally. The protesters were stationed at the Oneida Square roundabout in the center of Utica, a constant stream of cars driving by. Protesters chanted anti-Trump slogans and held up a variety of signs, including ones that said “Refugees Welcome” and “Protect Refugees, Not Borders.” One of the more comedic signs read: “We gave you hummus, now give us respect.” 

The event drew a broad crowd of individuals, ranging in age and ethnicity. A refugee family from Syria was just one among many of the families and groups among the protesters. With cold fingers and toes, Colgate students and faculty stood alongside Utica community members, chanting slogans like “No ban, no wall!” 

Assistant Professor of Educational Studies Anna Ríos-Rojas was one of a few faculty members who joined in the rally, along with students from the educational studies department. Ríos-Rojas spoke about her appreciation for the event, even though the cold weather made it difficult to stand outside for an extended period of time.

“It was bitterly cold! But it was enlivening and moving to see so many folks – Colgate students, Hamilton College students, local members of the community, faculty from nearby institutions, etc. [came] together to express their solidarity and stand with the larger refugee community as well as all of the communities that are feeling the heavy weight of the surveillance state at this moment,” Ríos-Rojas said. “I felt compelled to go [to the rally] because the struggle for human emancipation is one that needs to include a range of different voices, employ a varied set of tools, and it is also one waged on multiple fronts. This was my way to have a small yet still meaningful part in that broader struggle.”

Senior Taylor Ellerkamp, a student at Colgate, also attended the rally in Utica. She noted the importance of the sense of community that the event spurred, particularly in a city with such a significant population of individuals seeking refuge from other countries.

“I thought that it was really inspiring to see so many people standing up for refugee rights, especially in a city which has had such a large refugee population for so many years,” Ellerkamp said.

The following day, Colgate’s Konosioni honor society held an event called “A Solidarity Space in Support of Refugee Resettlement and the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees (MVRCR)” in the O’Connor Campus Center (COOP) on Colgate’s campus, providing students who were unable to attend the previous day’s rally the opportunity to show support for the refugee community. Konosioni has worked with the MVRCR, and this event provided students with the chance to sign up to volunteer at the center to learn more about the refugee community in Utica. Additionally, tables were set up where students could create artwork or write letters to local representatives, encouraging their representatives to oppose Trump’s ban.

Visiting Assistant Professor of Educational Studies Sally Bonet attended the rally and spoke at the Konosioni event the following day. Bonet has studied refugee families who resettled in Philadelphia as part of her research, and she feels strongly about the need for action in opposition to Trump’s ban. At the Konosioni event, Bonet spoke about her experiences observing and interacting with refugee families during their transition resettling in Philadelphia.

“You can’t disembody refugee youth and families and say ‘this is their experience,’” Bonet said in regards to studying young refugees. 

She noted the close bonds that refugee families have, and the difficulties that they face in coming to a country where the language is often unfamiliar to them and where they sometimes feel socially isolated.

Bonet also spoke about the effects that this transition has on students, and how each time that these individuals settle in a new community, there is an “educational interruption,” as they have to readjust to learning in a new setting. Additionally, discrimination is something that Muslim refugees in America have to deal with, and she spoke about some of the discrimination that the youths she studied had faced.

Bonet discussed the importance of pushing back against Trump’s executive order but also emphasized the significance of support for refugees once they enter the U.S. and are trying to adjust to their new home.

“Refugee resettlement is not enough. Of course we have to fight to let them in, but we can’t stop there,” Bonet said. Healthcare and English language education are two key support systems that Bonet says are insufficient for refugees attempting to adjust to the U.S.

In regards to the Colgate community, the administration has also responded to the executive order. President Brian Casey sent out a campus-wide email on February 8 to address the issue, with a link to a webpage that has been set up to update the Colgate community on any actions that the administration takes in regards to the ban, as well as information about resources that students and faculty can access if they are affected by the ban.

In a conversation with Casey on February 9, Casey noted the university’s commitment to ensuring that all students felt safe on this campus and the efforts that were going to be put in place to ensure that individuals were aware of their rights. He spoke about the contentious terrain that the administration has entered in outwardly stating its opposition to Trump’s order.

“Everyone is in unchartered territory. As I said, I’ve been in higher education for 25 years, and I have never seen a political context like this. Every day feels unchartered,” Casey said. 

The following day, Daniel B. Hurwitz, the Board Chair of Colgate’s Board of Trustees, sent out an email updating the community on their meeting. In regards to the university’s reactions to the executive order, they noted that this is something that will continue to be addressed.

“This is obviously an ongoing process that needs constant evaluation and communication to ensure that all members of the Colgate community are properly supported,” Hurwitz wrote.

Ríos-Rojas noted the importance of the work that the Colgate community is doing to help those who are affected by the ban, but she points out the importance of continued action on this topic.

“I also continue to encourage Colgate to take a bold(er) stance with regards to Sanctuary. I know this is complicated, fragile and potentially risky (at an institutional level), but these are complicated, fragile and risky times that might offer us an important opportunity to change precedent, to stand more firmly with our communities, and to always keep clear in our minds/hearts those most directly impacted by the policies we choose to (or not) put into practice” Ríos-Rojas said.

On Monday, February 13, Senior Advisor to the President Christopher Wells sent out an email addressed to the Colgate campus community about the presence of a legal expert on campus this Thursday, February 16. Kseniya Premo, a legal expert, will be discussing the legal ramifications of Trump’s executive order. Additionally, she will be available to speak with individuals one-on-one during the day for those who have more specific questions.

“I think we need to continue to put our bodies in different spaces in order to have different kinds of conversations that lead to different kinds of actions – and this likely means putting our bodies in spaces we might not typically frequent or ones where we might even feel some discomfort. I think this requires us to think about solidarity and movement building as something that needs to cross different kinds of borders,” Ríos-Rojas said. “It’s about showing up, I guess. How do we show up for others?”