President Ditzler: On Borders, Principles, and the Need for Meaningful Action

February 2, 2017

By Dr. Mauri A. Ditzler, president of Albion College

These are interesting, challenging, confusing days in America.

For many, a new administration’s policies have them wondering where they fit into America and concerned about what America holds for them.

I hear these concerns on our campus and in our community. In fact, this week I met with Albion students who are members of the Muslim Student Association and who expressed these concerns. They worried about their place on campus and in the current political climate. Some of the questions I could not answer.

But I assured them that they are certainly valued members of the campus and the community. I also told them that until I sat with them and listened, I had forgotten how important it was for them to hear that from me directly. It was a good reminder for me that, even though my public pronouncements might be read by thousands, face-to-face conversations are often far more important.

Honestly, I have wrestled with how to respond to our students since President Trump issued his executive order blocking entry to the United States for men, women, and children from seven Muslim-majority countries. In the executive order, Mr. Trump explained that it was his goal to protect the United States from those who do not share the values of our founders. It is hard to argue with that intent.

But I believe it is equally important for those of us already in the U.S., including the president, to support those same founding principles with our words and actions. We strengthen our community by empowering those who feel powerless, by making “we the people” as inclusive and equitable as we can.

Of course, it is incumbent upon our national leaders to protect citizens, but we must challenge ourselves to protect our territories and our principles. I am convinced that when our actions destroy the principles of equality and respect that have inspired so many to give their full devotion to these United States, we are as dangerous as the terrorists that our president is working to exclude. We must guard against immigration policies—or for that matter, any policies—that undermine these fundamental ideals.

In a time when our world continues to grow smaller through ever-closer connections, Albion College will continue to highlight the beauty (and necessity) of partnerships, dialogue, and cultural exchange. This is not a time to be closing doors on our campus or in our country.

As developments unfold in the coming weeks and months, I encourage our campus community to engage in civil discourse (including respectful dissent and peaceful protest) in an attempt to broaden our horizons and achieve some level of understanding of other points of view. Many have already expressed such dissent and engaged in peaceful protests. In a democracy, that is vital and necessary and perhaps the very embodiment of the values of our founders.

But we should also find opportunities to take a step back, take a deep breath, turn off the noise in our everyday lives, and reflect on the need for meaningful action. We should speak out and engage in lively debate. We should listen to the opinions of others. We should reflect on what we have said and what we have heard. But none of this matters if we don’t take action to make ours a better society.

Grand pronouncements and strong statements have their place and are important. But in the final analysis, we will be judged by our impact and not by our rhetoric or even our good intentions.

We live in times that are as challenging as they are interesting. Our path ahead is complicated by the polarization of our country. It will be hard to identify and implement actions that are both effective and consistent with our best traditions. But such is the hard work we are here to do.

Dr. Mauri A. Ditzler is the 16th president of Albion College.