Brattleboro's School For International Training Weighs Impact Of Travel Ban

Feb 6, 2017

At the School for International Training in Brattleboro, students and staff are still trying to understand the impact of President Trump's controversial travel ban on refugees and visa holders.

Abdou Edris came to SIT to study sustainable development, and his program includes overseas field work. But Edris is from Sudan, one of the seven countries covered by Trump's travel ban.

And so for now, his plans are on hold.

"For me, right now, I am worried about my project," he says. "I may not be able to continue as I planned. But I can't stop. I believe that if anyone has a goal maybe he can't achieve today, but tomorrow he can succeed. But I'm worried."

The president's move to ban some international travel, and the subsequent court orders suspending enforcement, threw Edris' plans into upheaval.

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And even if the travel ban remains blocked, he's not sure he's ready to get on a plane and leave this country without knowing if he'd be allowed back in.

"I don't understand what the future might bring, and what's going on," Edris says. "What's the next step for us, exactly? But I am so angry. We lived with a lot of stress last week. It was stressful for all the international students, especially from these seven countries."

Edris left Sudan 12 years ago, as a refugee fleeing the violence there. He ended up in Cairo, and then spent the past few years working with other refugees in Buffalo, New York.

He says he got this opportunity to attend college and he wants to continue working with people who are struggling.

"It is very important when you survive, to help others to survive about what happens to them," he says. "It is very important when you share your experience with other people who face the challenges you faced. Right now, to help human beings will let them to be more strong, more creative, more dependent on themselves. It is very important."     
 
Trump's executive action rocked this campus in Brattleboro.

At any one time, SIT has hundreds of students located in dozens of countries all over the globe.

And so when news broke on a Saturday morning, and Trump said he was temporarily banning travel from seven countries, SIT president Sophie Howlett says she and her senior staff changed their weekend plans.

"The first issue in our minds was, 'Do we have any students or faculty or staff who are out of the country right now and are trying to get back in?'" she says.

SIT president Sophie Howlett says the school is trying to understand the travel ban's impact on the school.
Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR

After finding out everyone was safe, the administration tried to understand what this new executive order will mean to SIT.

Students from all over the  world are getting ready to come to the Brattleboro campus, and students who are in Vermont now are trying to make travel plans for their projects.

Howlett says the college is preparing for the worst.

"We've got no idea about how this ban might be extended in the future," says Howlett. "And so obviously we have a group of international students out there who are very nervous right now."

One of those students said she didn't want to give her name, to protect herself and her family.

She said she was from one of the seven countries included in the travel ban.

"I thought that I wasn't feeling safe back there in my country because of the war zones and because of  the work that I have done," she says. "But I'm not feeling safe here in the U.S. I came from a country and I came from a family that we are facing whatever fears we have. We don't just, like, hide behind the screens. And this is my first time that I'm hiding behind the screens."

She says back in her home country she did work to help people in the war zone, and to support equal rights for women.

She had an opportunity to go to a training in Europe, but now believes the travel ban won't allow her to attend.

The flags in the SIT dining hall change depending on which students are on campus.
Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR

And just like everyone else all over the world who's been affected by the developing situation, there's uncertainty about the future.

"For me, it's a crisis. We talk about natural crisis and war crisis, this is a crisis," the student says. "From those people who are in those seven countries, everything is on hold. Their hopes, their dreams their jobs, their education, it's just on hold."

A younger student also said he didn't want to give his name or country of origin.

He said he was worried, and less sure what was on the other side of all of this:

"After hearing the news about executive order, and the impact, and seeing what happened in the airports, it was just heartbreaking. It just like doesn't make sense. To this day I can't believe that we are living this."

He says the people who come to SIT want to build their lives and careers  around international travel. They want to establish stronger ties among nations — and they want to encourage more travel and more face-to-face contact, not less.

"We all came here for one purpose," he says. "We have different aspirations, but there's something uniting us. We all want to establish a bridge between nations and make that global bubble to be more inclusive. We all want to have a mutual understanding, a mutual respect for each other, and at the same time educate ourselves about other cultures. That's the general umbrella we all fit in."

So the administration and students are getting ready for this new normal.

The school is solidifying its policies, and it says it won't give out information on its students if someone from the government comes asking.

The school held a meeting last week to let students and staff talk about how they're feeling.

And the college president says it was the first of what will likely be frequent town hall meetings to vent and support each other and figure out the best and safest way to move forward.