“No ban. No wall. Freedom here for all.”
This was the chant echoing across campus on Wednesday, when more than 300 UCF students and faculty marched in support of refugees from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries.
Campus organization Students Organize for Syria (SOS) planned this March for Humanity in direct response to President Trump’s January 27th executive order that placed a 90-day suspension on the entry of refugees from certain “terror-prone” nations. As reported by CNN in a January 30th article, Trump’s “Protection Of The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States” [sic] affects specifically those attempting to enter the U.S. from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia.
The executive order, widely dubbed by the media as well as those within the Trump administration as a “Muslim ban,” resulted in immediate confusion. The Guardian reported on January 31st that the executive order had mistakenly resulted in the detainment of green card holders and dual citizens. It was met with protests at airports and federal lawsuits in at least four states.
SOS President Amirah Mathin, a 21-year-old UCF senior and Biomedical Sciences major, stated in an interview with Knight News that the planning lasted just over a week, with news of the march spreading as a Facebook event. Within days, over 1000 people had marked them themselves as “interested” in the event, and the march also garnered the support of local organizations such as Floridians Responding to the Refugee Crisis and the Arab American Community Center.
SOS Events Director Ali Khater, a 21-year-old UCF senior and Physics major, spoke on how the executive order had affected UCF and the Orlando community: “We have a lot of students and faculty here who are coming in through visas or green cards that can no longer visit their families because they’re afraid they might not be allowed to come back to work, and they’ve set up their whole lives here in Orlando.”
Many protesters showed their support for refugees through signs, such as SOS Community Service Director Olivia Sunná, a 19-year-old sophomore and Creative Writing major, who carried a sign bearing the Arabic translations of “Our homeland is your homeland” and “Welcome our brother refugees.”
However, the support may not have been universal. A Facebook survey of 263 students paints a more polarizing picture of the executive order: while 46.8% of respondents stated that they were outright opposed to the policy, 33.8% professed that they supported it.
Of those who expressed opposition to the policy, 94.2% cited as their reasoning that it was racist or Islamophobic, while 78.7% of those who expressed support of the policy cited national security reasons. Additionally, 11% of those polled agreed with the executive order in principle but felt that it was poorly thought out or executed.
Though this informal and limited poll should not be considered representative of overall campus opinion, it does highlight the differing reactions at UCF concerning the executive order.
Mathin and Khater, who are married, stated that their intention with the march was not to be partisan or anti-Trump. “We invite the opposition to come out and talk to them and maybe get their point of view that, hey, this person is a student just like you,” Mathin said.
She continued, “They have a job just like you. They play sports just like you. They have a dog. They have a cat. They have a family. They’re normal human beings, and they’re being treated unfairly because of where they’re from.”
The march concluded with protesters returning to the flagpole at Memory Mall, where they listened to several speakers, including 11/9 Coalition Vice-Chairman Grayson Lanza, Manny Orozco Ballestas of College Democrats, Tasnim Mellouli of Muslim Student Association, and Rasha Mubarak of FRRC and CAIR.
Lanza, hoarse from an hour of chanting, told the protesters, “We are out here today to make it heard, not just to UCF, not just to Orlando, not just to Florida, not just to America even, but to the world where we stand. We stand against hate. We stand against bigotry. We stand against xenophobia. And we stand for unity.”
“It’s not anti-Trump,” Khater said of the march. “No, it’s simply ‘We don’t like this policy. This policy’s going against our American values. It’s affecting hundreds of lives at UCF and thousands and thousands of lives in the United States of America, and we want to show that we will always be backing these people up.’”
This article was contributed by Kevin Broadway, Andrew Franklin and Kinzie Hicks