NIAGARA UNIVERSITY, N.Y. – On Feb. 2, 2017, the Niagara University Office of Mission and Ministry, the Middle East and Islamic Studies Committee, the Diversity Committee and the Brennan Center sponsored a gathering in St. Vincent’s Circle in support of Niagara’s immigrant and international community. Attended by several dozen school and community members, the event came at the heels of an executive order issued by United States President Donald Trump, which limits or prevents immigration from multiple Muslim-majority nations.
Among those to speak to the crowd was master of ceremonies Dr. Mustafa Gökçek. An opening prayer was orated by Kristina Daloia, Director of Campus Ministry. Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., President of Niagara University followed with messages of welcoming international students into the community.
“I’d like to call us forward to be a community that is not only a place of hospitality, but has the heart of hospitality,” Father Maher said during the event. “Let’s be a community that welcomes difference in all of its forms and that actually creates a home for difference. For people that look different, for people that believe differently and for people who just see themselves as different.”
Student representatives to speak included Black Student Union representative Gabi Jackson, Sevval Aydin of the Muslim Student Alliance, President of the Saudi Student Association Saleh Aloatibi and Elizabeth Camara, a refugee student from Liberia.
“I feel like this ban on immigrants is a ban based on religion,” Aydin said. “I believe it’s a violation of equal protection and is definitely against the constitution of the United States.”
“We, all together, are going to support each other and help each other to go forward,” Aloatibi said of international students. Aloatibi, a native of Saudi Arabia, mentioned that several international students have recently contacted hum, telling him that they are worried to try and return to their home countries with these travel changes now in effect.
“We are Christians and Muslims, but before that we were simply human beings,” Camara said. “So please can we not turn this into an us versus them. This is a time for us to be unified.”
“It came out of the faculty,” Dr. Gökçek said post-event of the idea for the gathering. “A lot of the faculty were concerned and they actually wanted to show support to the international students and the community here.” Gökçek serves as the faculty advisor for the Muslim Student Alliance and member of Niagara’s Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies department, along with Drs. Amelia Gallagher and Stefanie Wichhart.
“I think it’s very important that we contribute to this culture of care and compassion for others who might be like us,” Dr. Gökçek said. “This is not just about the immigrants or refugees, there is a very deep, philosophical aspect to this whole discussion. How do we look at the world, and how to we look at others?”
Quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Muhammed, and passages from both the Bible and the Quran were interspersed throughout the gathering. Executive Vice President of Niagara University Dr. Debra Colley, Dr. Leticia Hahn, Dr. Deborah Curtis, Disability Awareness Training Director David Whalen and Ed Millar, Curator of Folk Art at the Castellani Art Museum all spoke at the event as well.