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IN MY OPINION

Universities’ universal values will outlast Donald Trump

By LÉO CHARBONNEAU | November 14, 2016

President-elect Donald Trump – I never imagined I would be writing those words. I would think that most of Canada’s academics, aside from the odd misanthrope, share my concern at the prospect of such a dangerous and temperamentally unfit individual in the White House.

Within hours of Mr. Trump’s surprise win, higher-education journalists in the U.S. and elsewhere were speculating on what effect this would have on American universities. Their greatest concern was that the image of the U.S. as a welcoming place for international students and scholars has been greatly damaged. Similar fears were voiced in the United Kingdom following the Brexit vote.

As if to underline that point, there have been multiple reports of racist incidents on U.S. campuses targeting immigrant and visible-minority students following the election. Many of these incidents specifically include Mr. Trump’s name as justification.

It’s a sharp contrast to recent developments in Canada. The Government of Canada has signalled openly that it welcomes international students. It recently revised (starting November 19) how it assesses applications for permanent residence and these changes should make it easier for international students to stay here after graduation. Earlier in 2016, immigration minister John McCallum said, “International students are the perfect candidates to become Canadian citizens and we are seeking them out.” A new report from the Conference Board of Canada likewise says Canada must encourage more international students to stay and work in the country if we want to benefit not only from their economic potential but also from their “considerable social and cultural value.”

There are those who hope Mr. Trump will temper his racist, anti-immigrant rhetoric and govern in a more pragmatic and inclusive manner. So far, I see nothing in his temperament, nor in the advisors that he has surrounded himself with, to suggest that will happen. I greatly fear the misery that emboldened white supremacists will visit upon minorities in the U.S. – Blacks, Latinos, Muslims, immigrants (both documented and undocumented), the LGBTQ community and so on. It is a frightening prospect.

And lest we grow complacent, remember that there are politicians in this country who are only too willing to fan the flames of bigotry. We must remain vigilant. As Dalhousie University President Richard Florizone tweeted as the election results were coming in: “When voices of intolerance are loudest don’t be despondent – be emboldened, and even more committed to values of diversity and inclusion.” Universities and their values of openness and inclusivity will outlast Donald Trump.

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