Westminster professors and students protest in support of Salt Lake refugees

Westminster College professors and students came together to protest President Donald Trump's temporary ban on refugees and on immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries at the Salt Lake City March for Refugees on Feb. 4. Five days later, a federal appeals court denied a request to restore the president's travel ban.

Hundreds marched to the Utah State Capitol and raised their voices to encourage Utah’s representatives to stand up for refugees and immigrants. 

“Like a lot of people, I think I’ve been growing increasingly concerned with the daily stuff coming out of [Trump’s] administration trying to shut us off to other people,” said Chris LeCluyse, a professor of English and the director of Westminster's Writing Center. “I think that it’s—like most of the things coming from the administration—totally antithetical to who we are as a country, so it is important to us to come down here and represent.”   

Kate Tsourmas, a junior neuroscience major at Westminster, said she felt it was important to come to the march to support immigrants and refugees across the state and the country. 

“[We're] showing support for refugees, showing that people in Utah—as well as people all over the country—support refugees and immigrants who are leaving unsafe, horrible situations [and] trying to come to a better life in the United States,” Tsourmas said. “We support those people; we don’t support the executive orders that are essentially a Muslim ban.” 

President Donald Trump signed the order on Jan. 27 and suspended new refugee admissions  from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia for 120 days. 

Westminster professors and students who attended the march said they disagree with the ban and think it's unethical.  

Jennifer Simonds, chair of the psychology department, said she marched to support refugees and make the issue more visible. 

“I’m here because our country needs to be welcoming to refugees,” she said. “They’re escaping horrible circumstances and we are able to house them, and I’m not afraid of the things that Trump wants us to be afraid of.”  

Vicki Whiting, a professor of business and management leadership, also said she came to the Utah State Capitol to stand up for refugees.  

“Everything that we stand for as a country and our ability to raise our voice is what makes us a great country, so I had to be here to show support for who we are as a country,” Whiting said. 

Many in the Westminster community said they were shocked and sad when they heard about the order.  

"It made me want to cry for what our country has become,” said Lesa Ellis, the chair of the neuroscience program. “It made me incredibly sad that people voted a man into office who would take away such a fundamental part of our country.” 

Dana Soweidan, a junior management and finance double major, said she was angry, mad and sad when she heard about the ban. Soweidan, who comes from a Muslim family, said she attended the march to stand against Trump's policies.   

"It was a good way to stand up for my culture, my heritage and the Muslim people," she said. "There was so many people there. What surprised me the most was that there [were] mostly Americans and non-Muslims. That was really interesting to see." 

Protests like the one in Salt Lake City occurred nationwide.  

“The courts have actually intervened to keep from enforcing this stupid ban on Muslim immigrants,” LeCluyse said. “My concern is that the administration will find other ways to get around that, so I’m hoping that this [march] will just permanently send a message that that’s unconstitutional and they shouldn’t even try.” 

Both the professors and students who attended the march said diversity and inclusion are important and it's their goal to make Westminster safer for people of all backgrounds. 

“Global consciousness is one of our college-wide learning goals,” LeCluyse said. “We hope that by coming to Westminster, [students] are learning not just stuff in the classroom but learning how to apply it in the world.”    

Tsourmas said she is happy to be a part of the campus's activist community. 

“Westminster has a large community of activists and people who are really passionate about a wide range of issues," Tsourmas said. "I’m excited that we have a [safe haven] campus and that administration and president Morgan have been so supportive of basically what the students want." 

Whiting said she encourages everyone to be open-minded and welcoming to people from any background.   

“I think diversity is life," she said. "We are all human and at the heart of who we are, just good people. And if education doesn’t stand for that, then we’ll never progress as a society. So it’s just learning from each other and accepting all of the different ideas and being open to all of the thoughts and ideas. That’s what education is.”