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Nearly 150 Penn undergraduate and graduate students marched from Locust Walk to Senator Pat Toomey's office to deliver a letter bringing to light their concerns regarding President Trump's immigration ban.

Credit: Joy Lee

In the past weeks, students have demonstrated on campus and elsewhere in protest of President Donald Trump's immigration ban. But on Wednesday night, instead of marching, students gathered in small groups to discuss the impact of the executive order. 

Around 80 Penn students discussed immigration policy at Perry World House in the latest of Penn’s TableTalks, "Beyond the Ban." 

Students sat at tables of 10 people, each with a discussion leader from TableTalk or a cosponsoring group, where they received a United Nations fact sheet about refugee resettlement, a timeline of Trump's immigration actions and a list of possible discussion questions. The list of questions prompted students to begin their discussions by sharing their family histories with immigration.

The discussion instructions asked students to, "[r]emind your groups that this is a safe space and a shared space."

Conversations shifted toward whether students knew any people who are affected by the ban, how a country could promote both security and inclusivity and what responses to Trump's immigration actions say about attitudes regarding immigrants. 

Wharton junior Svanika Balasubramanian, an Indian citizen and Omani resident who attended the discussion, said she believes segregation of people from different cultures has contributed to xenophobic sentiment in the United States.

“When we have the capacity to see difference in a person, we tend to alienate that person from ourselves,” she said.

College junior Nayab Khan, who is also enrolled in the School of Social Policy & Practice, shared that her parents immigrated from Pakistan and that her mom landed in the U.S. the day that President Bill Clinton won the 1992 presidential election. Other students also shared stories about their immigrant parents, and some talked about being immigrants themselves.  

Xavier Islam, an Engineering junior whose parents immigrated from Bangladesh, stressed that the U.S. is a nation of immigrants. He said it is hypocritical for descendants of immigrants to support xenophobic policies.

This particular TableTalk event was the brainchild of Wharton and College junior Julianne Goodman, an Undergraduate Assembly Wharton representative, who said she wanted to address controversy over the immigration ban with an event that would allow for discussion among students instead of a more traditional speaker event. 

She approached TableTalk President and College senior Jeremy Cohen, who said that TableTalks, a part of TableTalk that organizes conversations among students who may not normally interact, would be the perfect platform. The event was cosponsored by the Muslim Students Association, the Arab Student Society, the Assembly of International Students, the Undergraduate Assembly, IMPACT Magazine and the United Minorities Council.

TableTalk Co-Chair and Engineering sophomore Madeline McGovern said one of the goals of the event was to allow students to discuss actions they could take to affect immigration policy. She said that she hoped students consider how to use "the privilege we have here."

The talk was intended to “humanize people’s stories,” College sophomore and TableTalk Co-Chair Sophia Simon said.

“A lot of time we’re just looking at statistics,” she added. “But it’s important to appreciate the diversity of what we’re seeing, especially the diversity at Penn.”