by Jim McCall
Special to The Landmark
As Park University in Parkville is adjusting to President Donald Trump's executive order on immigrants and refugees, Park President Greg Gunderson sat down with The Landmark and discussed how the university's family is reacting and adjusting to the directive, which is under challenge in the legal system.
Gunderson’s calm demeanor and proactive nature was apparent in how Park will respond to this new reality that could affect its international community.
The executive order was signed by President Trump on Jan. 27 and impacted the travel into the United States for immigrants and refugees from seven Middle Eastern countries.
According to Gunderson, Park University has somewhere between three to six students that could be affected. The exact number is hard to determine due to the dual citizenship of some of the students.
Park currently enrolls about 250 international students from around 50 nations. Nearly one-half of the students who live on campus are from outside the United States.
“There has been no direct impact yet, but there will be. If they go home this summer they may not be allowed to return,” said Gunderson.
He further remarked that “one of our students from Yemen (one of the impacted countries) has decided to transfer to a Canadian institution next year.”
“I understand that significant investment is required by these students and their parents and understand them not wanting to risk loss of this investment by not being able to return to complete their education,” Gunderson continued. “We will do everything in our power to encourage that any student who is kept from returning to our campus completes their education.”
Park has several proactive programs in place to ensure all students feel welcome and secure while attending the university. The 2016-17 theme of “Inclusion” was introduced last August at the beginning of the school year. Although it was announced before the presidential election and the new executive order, it has been appropriate for the new reality.
Park has placed several platforms into practice such as free lunch discussion groups to talk about the impact of the new world situation and how it has affected Park students, faculty and administration.
The newly introduced #ONE FAMILY PARK.YOU slogan further illustrates the commitment of the university to ensure a positive experience for its students. Additionally, there are speakers bureaus, student scheduled events and blogs all for students to express their thoughts.
Asked whether or not the Park campus could be considered a sanctuary campus, Gunderson quickly replied, “No, I don't think of us in that light…if we remain true to ourselves we do not need that. We have no political bones in our body when it comes to the executive order. We serve our students.”
The campus in downtown Parkville has previously been a refuge from national issues that adversely impacted students. As this excerpt from a Park University brochure explains :
“While the decision to ease restrictions on social behavior directly affected only the students at Park College, Dr. Young's decision to accept nine Nisei (persons born in the United States or Canada whose parents were immigrants from Japan) for enrollment at Park in 1942 affected the entire Parkville area. In the spring of 1942, Young visited California during the evacuation of Japanese-born residents into internment camps away from the Pacific Coast and was particularly concerned about young Japanese-American citizens of college age.
His concern turned to a conviction to help out when he learned of a way to allow Nisei students to continue their educations through the War Relocation Authority. In order to complete the process, a local law enforcement official had to sign a statement that there was no objection to Nisei students residing in the Parkville community. Even though the War Department, the FBI, the Navy Department, the Presbyterian Church, Park's board of trustees, and students had all given their whole-hearted support.”
One of the interned students was so grateful that he donated half of his reparations he later received to Park. Gunderson related this story as representative of the depth of commitment Park has always had to maintain an unbiased community for their students to learn.
Today, Trump’s executive order is winding its way through the federal court system and the final outcome could be in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the meantime, we are seeing a drama unfold in Parkville that is being repeated all over the country. Coincidently, the university theme next year is going to be “Diversity.”
Gunderson was adamant about bringing students together and he said he believes “hugs” always help.