On Wednesday, February 15th, I attended a lecture by Dr. Mateo Mohammad Farzaneh, the Visiting Fellow at the Farzaneh Family Center for Iranian and Persian Gulf Studies entitled “US-Iranian Relations: Past, Present, and Future. As someone who knows next to nothing about Iran, and even less about the relationship between Iran and America, I found this discussion particularly enlightening. In addition to providing an overview of the history of Iran’s relationship with America, Dr. Farzaneh made the compelling argument that America and Iran could not be more natural partners, but that America’s continued Islamophobia, and the resulting backlash from Iran, are keeping the two from succeeding as allies. While most of Dr. Farzaneh’s talk went a bit over my head (I think that I was a bit out-of-place among the Iranian scholars and Arabic/Farsi students that made up most of the crowd), this was one of the first times since the election of Donald Trump that I heard an academic discussion on the role of Islamophobia as it affected Middle Eastern scholars.
I’ve thought more about this chilling effect in recent days, as multiple studies report that the “Trump Effect” is severely decreasing the number of foreign students enrolling in US universities. Especially for a program like OU’s College of International Studies, this could not be more devastating. The intellectual vitality and diversity of US universities is under attack, and as long as foreign applicants are fearful of their ability to come and go freely, there isn’t an end in sight. I also worry about the effect that the Trump Effect will have on research and tech development. Universities like Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and Yale maintain some of the best facilities and faculty members in the world, and due to their large endowments and sheer amount of resources, are able to recruit globally, bringing in the best students and scholars regardless of national background. By cutting off an entire cohort of potential scientists and engineers from the tools and resources they might need in order to become groundbreaking members of their field, Trump is effectively threatening the future of a number of academic disciplines. Even before the personification of White America’s id was elected President, gaining entrance to the United States as an emigrant from the Middle East was difficult. I worry that it will soon be impossible, to the detriment of us all.