UT Provost urges international students to stay in U.S. amidst fears of Trump immigration ban

Zomchick told students that the Volunteer family is here for them in uncertain times during Wednesday’s SGA town hall meeting. He reminded students of their “absolute” freedom of speech on campus.

Photo by Faith Held

Interim Provost John Zomchick attended the Student Government Association town hall meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 1, to give a statement regarding the executive order placing a temporary ban on immigration from seven Middle Eastern countries.

“I know there is a lot of concern on campus because of changes that are coming fast from Washington, D.C. I know that we met with student government’s executive council over the weekend to try and talk about what we want to do to try and help our students here on campus, to make sure that they know that we are here to support you. We want to reach out to you and we ask you to reach out to us – we don’t always know what you need, but if you communicate with us, if it’s about the executive order on immigration, the best place to contact is the Center for International Education. So, Scott Cantrell there will help you. Of course, there’s also the Center for Health and Wellness if you are feeling stressed or anxious about these developments and how they affect you.

“What we are saying right now is that if you are from one of the seven countries that are covered under the executive order, we are urging you not to travel outside the United States, because at least for the next 90 days you will not be permitted to return to the United States. Those sorts of things are obviously not under our control, but what is under our control – and I hope you hear this – is our commitment to the health and well-being of every single student on this campus. That is a mission that we take very seriously, and I urge you to reach out to some of these folks that I have named, and you can also reach out to my office, at provost@utk.edu.

“We expect that more changes will be coming in the weeks ahead. We have no idea what those changes are. I hope you got the chance to read the Chancellor’s message that went out on Monday. In that message, he said quite clearly that our commitment to diversity, inclusiveness and civility is strong, and will remain strong. The presence of international students, and the diverse student body here – those are the things that make us exceptional in every way. We welcome you. We want you here. We see you as part of our Volunteer family. You are part of our Volunteer family. What family members do in times of crisis can’t always predict [sic] what comes from outside of the family. It could be something like a fire, as in Gatlinburg, recently – it could be an illness to a family member – but families draw together. Families are the first line of support in times of stress and in times of trouble. To the extent that we can be that for you, that’s what we want to be. And that’s the message that I want to give all of you, tonight.

“I realize that will have its limits, and some of you will still be anxious. Some of you will continue to worry about developments, but again, what I want to say is we will help you to the farthest extent that we can.

“…We continue to monitor what’s happening and what’s coming out of Washington, D.C., and we also continue to monitor what other institutions of higher education across the country are doing right now in response to the executive order. As you might imagine, there is a great range of responses and activity around that, and one of those is to talk about what kinds of legal support we could potentially extend to our international students and students who ask us for that help.”

Zomchick was asked if the University had plans for releasing any further statements, and answered, “At the moment, no. Not that I know of. We will have a meeting on Monday, and will talk more about that. As you know we are in transition, and we are waiting for a new leader to come to our campus. Chancellor Davenport will arrive here on February 15, and take over as the leader of the campus. She will begin then to set, I guess, the agenda, and she will decide what kind of statements are necessary.”

After finishing his statement and looking at the packed classroom of Haslam Business Building, Zomchick added, “Individuals who work for us and who go to school here have absolute freedom of speech, including whatever you think in your conscience is necessary to do, as long as you realize there could be consequences for whatever action you choose to take,” he said. “I hope we don’t have to – I hope we don’t go down that road.”

Zomchick’s statement was met with silence. Several student Senators and student body Vice President McKinsey Patterson were contacted for comment after the meeting, but all declined, with the exception of student Senator Sam England. England said, “If you look at how difficult it was for Dr. Zomchick to talk about this – it’s going to be even more difficult for us. This is a complicated issue, and as he said, still developing.”

Featured Image by Faith Held

Edited by McKenzie Manning