Travel tales and conversations

The political climate according to members of the AU community

A look at how the political climate is affecting Augustana



Senior Nishat Tasnim missed the first few days of spring semester. When she told her professors it wasn’t her fault, she was telling the truth.

Nishat TasnimTasnim was stranded in Chicago for three days after a second round of interrogations from immigration officers caused her to miss her connecting flight to Sioux Falls.

Tasnim was returning to Augustana after a spending first semester back home in Bangladesh. She is Muslim.

She was returning to the United States days after President Donald Trump signed a since-ruled-unconstitutional travel ban Jan. 27, barring seven countries from entering the U.S. All seven were majority-Muslim nations.

Bangladesh was not on the list. It is, however, a majority-Muslim state. Tasnim said that she didn’t know whether her religion was the reason behind her being interrogated twice.

One round of questioning is protocol, she said, but the second one—which she had never experienced before—was frustrating because she was asked mostly the same questions. And it caused her to be stuck in Chicago, temporarily alone, for three days.

“It was [in] a different, separate room, where I saw students and just different people from all over the world, a [few people],” Tasnim said of the interrogation room. “Just overall, it was like a mess. I saw the protesters there, there were lawyers outside Chicago airport asking ‘do you need any help?’ the usual scenery I was checking on the news.”

Tasnim said the travel ban made her apprehensive for the flight, despite her country not being on the list.

“You just never know who’s the target [of officers], you can be the one or they can just say ‘you’re fine,’” she said. “They weren’t stopping [everyone]. When you’re not in that position, you don’t know how it is, because after 35 hours of flying, and then you’re stopped, right at that moment, you just want to settle down. You’re already tired, you’re jet-lagged, you’re exhausted. I was already tired, and I’m like ‘OK, can I go?’ It was frustrating. I had a lot of mixed emotions at that moment.”

Her Augustana connections proved invaluable during her long layover—she called someone she knew from Augustana who now works for the ELCA in Chicago; that friend called another friend who paid for Tasnim’s first-night hotel stay.

“Pure stranger love,” Tasnim said of the act.

That friend-of-a-friend called another friend who allowed Tasnim to stay with her for two nights while she figured out her travel plans.

Tasnim contacted Director of International Programs Donn Grinager during her second night in Chicago and explained her situation. Grinager told her there was an Augustana student in Chicago for an interview. Tasnim got a hold of her, and they carpooled back to Augustana.

Her plane ticket went unused.

Nishat Tasnim pullquoteAgain: suggesting that the travel ban caused Tasnim to be interrogated twice is speculation. She doesn’t know; nobody really does. But she was interviewed twice because she is different, and that difference caused her to be stuck in the U.S.’s third-largest city by herself for three days.

Tasnim and her friend Ekram Wehabrebi, a junior and a leader of the Muslim Student Association, said they feel safe and welcome at Augustana and that they have received many notes and actions of support from the Augustana community in the last few months.

They also said that Trump’s presidency and the rhetoric associated with it have made them feel less safe outside Augustana’s confines—especially when travelling.

“Frankly, after the election, I was feeling worried to come back,” Tasnim said. “Everything, the whole environment, I was worried. I was like ‘where am I heading to?’”

Wehabrebi said a group of Muslim students recently went bowling off campus and were verbally accosted by someone at the alley who used hateful speech. She said she is now on higher alert when using public transportation and whenever she leaves campus.

Talking about it

Both Wehabrebi and Tasnim said that while they feel safe at Augustana and mostly loved by the community, they struggle to understand how people voted for Trump.

A student in one of Wehabrebi’s classes stated that she voted for Trump. Wehabrebi was initially shocked, not knowing how to react. She listened to the student’s reasoning, which included saying that repealing Obamacare would benefit her family.

“She explained her point of it,” Wehabrebi said. “So what makes it hard is, people have chosen him, but not because they agree with everything he’s saying, but because of wanting a change or something different. So now you don’t really know who is who. You don’t really know how someone perceives you. This state is a Republican state. You just become very conscious. Who doesn’t want me here?”

Cara Beck, chairwoman of the Augustana Republicans, said it’s fair to ask where Trump voters stand on myriad issues. She added that, regardless of political ideology, people should be able to question each other without presupposing another’s entire worldview or set of beliefs.

“I think the communication can be improved on both sides [on political issues],” Beck said. “I think it’s important not to assume things about Republicans that voted for Trump, and I also think it’s important not to assume things about international students.”

She admitted that avoiding generalizations can be difficult and cited 24/7 news and opinions on Twitter as reasons why.

“It’s really easy to say it, but I feel like the best way to go about it is to actually sit down and try to understand where each other is coming from,” Beck said. “And that’s really hard to do when you can tweet in 140 characters.”

Dean of Students Jim Bies and Campus Pastor Paul Rohde said they had not heard of major incidents of harassment toward minority students on campus during or since campaign season. Both cited micro issues—feelings hurt, relationships tarnished—that students have attributed to the political climate.

Those incidents, according to Bies, have been higher this year than other years.

“What ought to be lively and spirited debate … and ‘we can still be best friends,’ many are [instead] feeling, ‘well, we cannot agree to be best of friends now, because you don’t think about it the way I think about it,’” Bies said. “That, I think, is what’s most disappointing.”

Bies and Rohde both said that honest, open, nonjudgmental conversations are a rarity in today’s climate, but that those discussions are essential to maintaining a healthy community.

“I can tell you that there’s [been] a chilling effect,” Bies said of the political atmosphere. “I think the travel ban has affected conversations on campus and, at the same time, our biggest challenge is learning how to communicate with each other from points of difference with dignity and civility.”

Rohde said he saw this challenge when praying for the election with members of campus ministry. He said it’s a group with diverse views, which prompted vague, noncommittal prayers so as to avoid conflict. Once members of the group were encouraged to open up, “you discover some common ground even though the way you say it helps prove that you are of different conviction [politically]” Rohde said.

“… I would want [people] to be aware of is how hard it is for people to speak honestly in this political environment,” Rohde said. “I think we all need to find ways past labels like ‘bigot’ or ‘flaming liberal’ or whatever and allow each other to be more complex.”

Augustana’s next president, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, is interviewed in another story in this edition of the Mirror. Without prompt, she addressed this topic.

“I hope young people come here and they get to know each other as Vikings first,” she said. “Become friends, understand each other, learn from each other, and then as they determine what positions on what issues they may have, understanding why they hold it, but also understanding why someone may hold a different view.”

Six weeks into the Trump administration, tensions are high and tweets aplenty. Things are happening, and, depending on whom you ask, honest, empathetic conversations aren’t.

“The political sphere is so devoid of mercy or forgiveness, and so we’re not at a place where we’re willing to allow our politicians to make a mistake, which is a really horrible position for human beings to be in,” Rohde said. “And I think that filters down … you don’t want to be seen as wrong, so can you risk? We need the freedom to be wrong. …I think where the real story may be is what people are not saying.”

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