3 Professors Are Fasting to Protest Their University's 'Silence' on the Travel Ban

February 06, 2017

Courtesy of Chenjerai Kumanyika
Three Clemson U. professors are fasting for six days to protest the lack of a forceful response from university administrators to President Trump’s executive order on immigration. Says one participant: "Right now we’re not asking them to break the law, we’re asking them to oppose the law."

Three Clemson University professors began a six-day fast this morning to protest what they say is administrators' “refusal to call for an end” to President Trump’s travel ban on refugees and citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

"The Fast Against Silence" is intended to pressure Clemson University's administration to “make a public statement opposing the Muslim ban,” said Todd G. May, a philosophy professor who is one of the participants. He is joined in the protest by Chenjerai Kumanyika, an assistant professor of popular culture, and Michael Sears, an associate professor of biology.

In a statement on Friday, the professors criticized Clemson for its unwillingness to “take a principled stand in the face of an assault against higher education,” despite the fact that multiple universities have published independent statements calling for an end to the ban.  

Asked why Clemson had not publicly condemned the ban, a university spokesman said the institution had lent its name to two letters of concern issued separately by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities and the American Council on Education. The spokesman also noted that the president, James P. Clements, had sent two notes to the campus in the past week that “clearly stated the university’s support for our international community.”  In the second note, Mr. Clements wrote that Clemson had identified approximately 115 students from the affected countries, and was in the process of “reaching out to help them access resources, get answers to their questions regarding the executive order, and provide additional assistance as we can.”

But Mr. May said the university administration finds itself “well behind the curve” in terms of its response. “One of the university vice-presidents has said that the university simply intends to follow the law. Right now we’re not asking them to break the law, we’re asking them to oppose the law,” he said.

In an email to the university's provost, Robert H. Jones Jr., on January 31, Mr. May wrote that the university was “normalizing” the ban by failing to speak out publicly against it and by suggesting that some students might be able to finish their education in Canada. “By suggesting alternatives to international students, you have taken a position that is even more consenting than silence,” he said. “There are a number of Muslim students on campus who are feeling afraid and intimidated and they’re not feeling the support of the university."

The professors chose to fast “in symbolic solidarity with people who are actually suffering and hungry in real life, particularly people who might be trying to escape war-torn conditions like Syria, and can’t because of this ban,” Mr. Kumanyika said. He added that he hopes the administration will listen to the “overwhelming” community response to the protest, but he said he was "committed to go the whole six days.”

The travel ban’s suspension by a federal judge on Friday came after the fast was already in the works. But that did not affect the professors' plans to fast, they say. “In fact, we believe that it is more important now that Clemson break its silence before a permanent determination is made,” Mr. May said.

Correction (2/6/17, 3:53 p.m.): A previous version of this article incorrectly said James P. Clements was the university's provost. He is the president.