We must protect our students from the storm. iStock image

An immigration storm is brewing now…. We must protect our students

By Evrim Baykal

When I look out at my classroom, I see eager faces from every corner of our planet. I love this about my job. The diversity of Houston Community College, where I teach Business Computer Applications, is inspiring, and sets an example for every institution in this great land. Our students do not walk through our doors wondering, “Am I accepted as I am?” They know they are accepted.

This inclusivity needs to be preserved.

For those who have never felt it, discrimination is devastating. When other groups of people have most of the power — and for no just or logical reason — disenfranchised people like immigrants and people of color feel deeply defeated. Late last year, that feeling increased. Maybe it’s because hateful people felt they didn’t need to hide anymore, and the hostility came pouring out. I fear we must prepare for even more of it to come.

Hateful people feel they don’t need to hide anymore.

I don’t know what exactly will happen in the next few years, but there are some clues that give me an idea, and it is not looking pretty. As many of us Texans know, when the wind picks up, skies grow dark and the Gulf waters swell, a big storm is brewing and you’d better prepare. Yes, maybe it’ll miss us, but if it doesn’t, the consequences can be devastating.

My students need to feel safe in the face of this storm. It is a scientific fact that without a sense of safety and even belonging, the mind just does not take in information as effectively. The brain struggles.

Many of my community college students have struggled enough in their lives. They know first hand that the road towards betterment is much more difficult without comfort and privilege. These students worry daily about bigotry, bullying or fear of deportation, while trying to gain an education of all things. As an educator of 20 years, in a country like America, I find this unacceptable.

My students need to feel safe in the face of this storm.

Semester after semester, I read their stories. The young, single mother who knows a minimum wage job is not going to cut it for her child. The laid off father trying to re-establish himself in the work place. Their struggle is already very real. Do we need to make it even harder? This road toward higher education should be made easier, not more difficult.

These students are our community, and right now, we are afraid. We are waiting to see which of the threats we’ve heard over the past year will become concrete over the next four years. Stop and frisk? Mass deportation? Registering “all Muslims”?

I often look to the Houston Community College symbol, the eagle, which, according to Native American culture represents courage, strength and wisdom. An eagle can fly above clouds to see clearly where others can’t. An eagle has extraordinary vision.

The Houston Community College board displayed that sort of vision when it pledged to protect immigrant students, ensuring that the school will continue to be a beacon of inclusivity and diversity.

This is a time when we all must stand up for what is right. This is a time for solidarity. Stand strong together today and we will weather this storm.

Evrim Baykal is a founding member of the metro-wide adjunct union, United Academics of Houston, and an adjunct professor of Business Computer Applications at Houston Community College. Read more posts about immigration and social justice here. Read the rest of Voices on Campus here.