By Prof. Hassan Melehy
I’d like to thank you for devoting time at the Nov. 18 Faculty Council meeting to our campus community’s reactions to the presidential election. Your moderation of a discussion including Chancellor Carol Folt, Provost Jim Dean, Associate Vice Chancellor for Campus Safety and Risk Management Derek Kemp, Director of UNC Public Safety Jeff McCracken and others was testimony to your distinguished leadership. It’s imperative that we reach out to those who would be most vulnerable if certain conditions came into being under the next administration.
You may remember that you characterized as academic speculation, inappropriate for the meeting, my question to Chief McCracken about the UNC police’s role in the hypothetical scenario of a state law that would criminalize people, including some of our own students, for being in the United States without documentation. But my aim was to expand the discussion. To reassure students and faculty concerned about what might happen to undocumented immigrants and people of Muslim background, the speakers explained current policies and practices. Though the reminder that Carolina embraces all forms of diversity was helpful, people are apprehensive not about current conditions but rather what may come. Yes, we believe in the Carolina Way, but when measures may be imposed in contradiction to our moral principles, it’s time to refocus the subject.
Here are some examples. On Nov. 19, The New York Times ran an editorial criticizing Sen. Jeff Sessions, President-elect Trump’s current pick for attorney general, for among other reasons that he’d likely favor local police involvement in pursuing undocumented immigrants. And I remind you of the 2005 immigration bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, fortunately defeated in the Senate, that would have made it a crime for non-citizens simply to be on U.S. soil without papers. Is it safe to believe we won’t soon see efforts to resurrect this bill? No. If we really want to reassure the most vulnerable, we need to talk about what we at Carolina will do in the likely event that circumstances change. To this end, my question was of vital interest to our community.
My personal background may increase my sensitivity to these issues. Although I was born a U.S. citizen and don’t practice Islam, my heritage ties me to the Arab and Muslim worlds. Shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, my father (who was 75) and I were each investigated by the FBI on suspicion of terrorism, in an operation in which some 20,000 people of Arab and Muslim origin were interviewed, resulting in no arrests. In 2007, after I wrote a letter to the News & Observer criticizing another reader’s view of Islam as an inherently violent religion, a severed pig’s head turned up in our driveway in Carrboro. On the scale of things, these are mild incidents. But they’re one of the reasons why I join many at UNC in anticipating that both government measures and citizen “initiative” will gain strength and legitimacy under the coming administration. I firmly believe that those facing no threat will understand this and be allies, as long as they’re open to frank discussion. My respect for your leadership gives me every confidence that you’ll allow Faculty Council to be a forum for these matters. Let’s call that the Carolina Way.
Thank you very much.
The writer teaches in the Dept. of Romance Studies and the Dept. of English and Comparative Literature, and is serving his second term as a member of Faculty Council.
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