Education should transcend bigotry
UMass Amherst policy shows unnecessary bias, discrimination
For 17 retroactive days, Iranian national students were not allowed to enroll in the College of Engineering and College of Natural Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Simply put, under the now defunct provision, international students from Iran were not allowed to enter majors including but not limited to: chemical, mechanical and computer engineering, as well as physics, chemistry and microbiology. From the perspective of University students, the ban is completely outrageous and cruel. Yet, from a political standpoint, there is a sick sense of logic behind the policy.
Taking into account sanctions the United States has placed on Iran, UMass Amherst didn’t fashion the policy out of thin air. United States sanctions against Iran began in 1979 and have expanded on more than one occasion since their inception. The “Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012” gives the State Department the right to deny visas to anyone from those two nations who they assume will use their acquired knowledge to contribute to nuclear programs. The act roughly states, “The Secretary of State shall deny a visa (to any person) ... who is a citizen of Iran that seeks to enter the United States to participate in coursework at an institution of higher education to prepare … for a career in the energy sector of Iran or in nuclear science or nuclear engineering or a related field in Iran.” Speculation over Iran's nuclear arsenal has been prevalent for years, and this act shows evidence of that.
The UMass Amherst policy was rampant with inaccurate assumptions. To begin, the act clearly states that the State Department will handle all visa issues. UMass Amherst took it upon itself to enforce U.S. policy way outside of their realm of jurisdiction. Without the power to deny or grant visas, regulating student entrance is discriminatory. The largest flaw with UMass Amherst's policy is that it was a blanket provision assuming that all Iranian national students choosing to study these subjects would undeniably return home and contribute to their country's nuclear weapons program. The ban was designed to target a nation that the United States has a contentious relationship with, but students should not be forced to suffer over the whims of politics. There are international students who leave their home nations to escape tensioned political climates, seeking opportunities in education and a change of lifestyle. The UMass Amherst policy completely disregards that.
The university’s mentality stems from a convoluted sense of hysteria surrounding American national security and foreign relations in general. It is impossible for average American citizens to truly grasp the threat other nations pose to their daily lives. That being said, American exceptionalism is beginning to wear down on the masses, leading people to take drastic measures when they either do not need to or do not have the power to. Thanks to the 24-hour news cycle, policy moves by the government and endless commentary from pundits and talking heads, America looks like a nation under siege. From their point of view, it looks like some nation, organization or radical individual is trying to threaten the American lifestyle out of envy or jealousy, simply because we're the best — right?
While the UMass Amherst policy has been reversed, sentiment still lingers. These actions call into question the entire admissions system and the biases that may be employed in admitting or denying students. At a university like Rutgers, it is unfathomable to imagine the administration implementing such a policy. It is clear that learning and education are valued over politics and that the well-being of University students is a top priority. Political hysteria can easily seep into education, particularly on college campuses, but that does not allow administrators to openly discriminate against specific groups of students. Every student deserves the chance to learn, regardless of how American politics views them.