by Neil Chyten
Let us acknowledge the bold and brave move taken by MIT and Harvard this past week in suing the Trump administration over its order that international students who are attending a college that is 100% online this semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic cannot stay in the United States, but instead must travel back to their country of citizenship. How ridiculous is this?
For those of you who did not grow up in New England, you may not have a thorough understanding of who New Englanders are or what we stand for. In 1972, Massachusetts was the only state which voted for the ultraliberal presidential candidate George McGovern, while all of the other 49 states voted for Richard Nixon (who was one of only two presidents in history who was forced to leave office for wrongdoings). This gave rise to the popular bumper sticker which I displayed proudly on the back bumper of my Volkswagen Beetle, “Don’t blame me, I’m from Massachusetts.”
Both the abolitionist movement and the woman’s rights movement have their roots in New England. Politically, we lean far to the left. Academically, our schools and colleges are unsurpassed in the world. Socially, we are not afraid to make our opinions known. Many experts consider Massachusetts to be the most liberal state in the union. You may not love everything about New England or New Englanders, but it is hard to disagree with the contention that we stand up for what we believe. And what we believe in more than anything is justice and equality. We stand up for those whom we see as being oppressed. We rise up in support of those whom we believe have been unfairly treated by the government. We stand shoulder to shoulder in support of those who need our help.
With this in mind, let us acknowledge the bold and brave move taken by MIT and Harvard this past week in suing the Trump administration over its order that international students who are attending a college that is 100% online this semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic cannot stay in the United States, but instead must travel back to their country of citizenship. How ridiculous is this? It is hard to believe that this is anything but mean-spirited and shortsighted. Over and over again, the Trump administration has proven itself to be unambiguously racist. This latest move is clearly intended to send a message to international students that they are not wanted, and a message to institutions that they must open up their doors despite the dangers presented by holding live classes in the era of COVID-19.
Of course, there may be selfish intentions behind the lawsuit filed by MIT and Harvard. After all, they stand to lose millions of dollars if international students are not allowed to stay on campus. They stand to lose millions more if international students are lured away by other outstanding universities located in countries with more fair and friendly policies toward international students. Nonetheless, they did the right thing by standing up for the rights of international students to stay in the US while attending online classes at US institutions. They see through the ridiculousness of forcing students to fly home, only to have to return again when live classes resume. They fought for the safety of their students, instructors, and staff who would potentially be subjected to contact with COVID-19-positive individuals while in a confined space such as a classroom in which social distancing is difficult if not impossible. We don’t know what the outcome of this lawsuit will be, but we strongly suspect that MIT, Harvard, and every other institution of higher learning in America will prevail. Why? Simply because they are right and the Trump administration is, once again, wrong. In any case, let us praise the efforts of MIT and Harvard in bringing this lawsuit in the first place. It was the right thing to do. It helps people. It sets up a clear distinction between racist policies and fair policies. It acknowledges that we actually have a COVID-19 problem in this country, in contrast to the message sent out by the Trump administration that we “have this thing well under control.” It says to our international population that you are wanted here in the US, that you are a vital part of what we are, and that we will support you and stand by you while you are here. Just as we did with the abolitionists and the woman’s rights movement, we will stand shoulder to shoulder and side by side in support of your right to stay in the US to attend college, as we fight through the greatest scourge in our nation’s history.