February 26, 2017

EDITORIAL: Education Without Fear

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Last Wednesday, two Indian software engineers, Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani, were shot at a bar in Olathe, Kan. Kuchibhotla was killed, while Madasani and Ian Grillot, a bar patron who attempted to confront the shooter, were both injured. According to witnesses, the alleged shooter, 51-year old Navy veteran Adam Purinton, had belligerently asked about the two engineers’ immigration statuses, told them to “get out of my country” and used racial slurs before being asked to leave the bar. He complied, but returned shortly thereafter with a firearm.

Both Kuchibhotla and Madasani were here legally on H-1B visas, according to the Washington Post. They had completed graduate studies in America and were working for tech firms in Kansas.

The immigration policies pursued by the Trump administration have emboldened a culture of xenophobia throughout the United States, threatening to do lasting damage to our nation’s place on the global stage. Though the White House has vociferously denied any connection between the president’s rhetoric and a reported rise in hate crimes and groups, the government’s cavalier attitude towards immigration enforcement and deportation signals that those who look different are no longer welcome.

For a global institution such as Cornell, implications of this culture are devastating. Perpetuating fear among international students that the United States is a dangerous place to pursue an education in no way serves the interests of the University. Both undergraduate and graduate international students are an integral part of the Cornell community as well as the greater Ithaca and Tompkins County communities. They are sources of intellectual, academic and economic stimulus in this college town as well as college towns across the country. It is incumbent on the University to reiterate its support for its international students in the wake of this senseless killing.

This responsibility extends beyond Cornell — Congressman Tom Reed (R-NY) must raise his voice against the creeping irrationality and racism that threatens to harm the multiple world-class institutions in his congressional district. The Congressman, an early supporter of the president’s campaign, has the influence necessary to persuade President Donald Trump J. to speak out, forcefully and frequently, against acts of violence and hate like the one in Olathe, Kan. The economic and academic health of his constituents may well depend on it.
Sunayana Dumala, Mr. Kuchibhotla’s widow, told reporters, “I, especially, I was always concerned, are we doing the right thing of staying in the United States of America?… But he always assured me that only good things happen to good people.” No student or potential student, whether they are from India (as the victims were), or the Middle East (as the alleged shooter perceived them to be) or anywhere else, should have to question their safety when deciding to come to Cornell — whether they fear harassment from overzealous immigration officials or the xenophobic environment brought on by the administration.