Final Thoughts on Trump Travel Ban Project

Final Thoughts on the Trump Travel Ban Project

At the beginning of this semester I decided I wanted to embark on a photography project that would encompass place and participation and address the very heated politic topic of the Trump Administration Travel Ban Executive Order. I did not end up completing this project, however, I see many aspects of the process very valuable and would like to reflect on some of the things I gained from the experience of trying to carry out a large scale, political, social practice project.

This project began as a reaction to Subra Suresh’s initial email that addressed the Travel Ban affecting citizens from 7 Muslim Majority countries. Many, including myself, believed it to be a blanket statement for a large and pressing issue and didn’t appreciate his anecdote about how he achieved the American Dream. The email did not specify any legal action being taken to protect affected student nor did it offer up programs to emotionally help or support affected students. Several of my friends on Facebook expressed disappointment in Suresh’s address as well and called for more adequate student support. My goal with the project was to create safe spaces and support networks between affected and-non affected individuals within the student community. I figured this was not only a timely project, but also an important one for the CMU community as well considering that almost 15% of faculty and a large portion of CMU students are international. The University has taken some action since the onset of my project such as hosting a forum on the Muslim/Travel Ban, providing CAPS appointments for affected students, and joining a civil lawsuit with other major universities vs Trump regarding the importance of international students and faculty to campus communities.

My project was to involve, firstly, the establishment of a student support network to pair up affected individuals with allies and advocates to engage in dialogue about their troubles/fears/etc. and be a source of continuing support. Secondly, it would involve photographing each pair in conversation or in a stance that demonstrates solidarity and exhibiting the images in a large scale photo installation. I was initially going to display the images on the front of Warner Hall, but the project underwent many evolutions and my final idea of how to approach the photography aspect of the project was to have each pair meet me at the Forbes and Morewood bus stop, have a conversation on the 28X bus to the airport, photograph each pair in the airport, and spend the bus ride home wrapping up and reflecting on the experience. One of the major takeaways of the project was learning how to go through the process of permissions and allowing your idea to evolve and grow and adapt. I was unable to get permission to use Warner Hall as a site, but I still sent emails to many administrators and staff members trying to get the permissions, including Gina Casalegno, Dean of Student Affairs, whom I even set up a meeting with to discuss the project in person. I went through the experience of filling out art on campus forms as well as adapting and working with administrators to find a new site when Warner Hall was not possible.

In a similar vain, the participation aspect of this project was very good for me because I became much more comfortable talking to people, sharing my project idea and research with others, conversing with dozens of people at a time via email, etc. I went through the steps of researching every house fellow, CA, RA, and academic department head, and many student organizations, to spread my project proposal out to as many students as possible. This research as well as the experience of following through with emails for many months felt very professional and I know I gained confidence and maturity in doing it. While I never ended up photographing any participants, I did meet one, Azarakhsh, an Iranian grad student directly affected by the ban. He was unable to attend a major robotics competition abroad that he had spent many months working on, and the outcome of which affected his funding for his next semester program. Taking the time to really research him and his country, as well as talking to him over the phone and meeting him in person was very valuable in me truly understanding the contexts and experiences of the demographic of people I was trying to help with this project. I will always be grateful for this project, though it never came to fruition, for giving me the opportunity to meet such people as Azarakhsh and also to go through the experience of doing research/outreach and break out of my comfort zone to actually make a difference.

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