NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. -- Hundreds of students and others gathered at Rutgers University’s main campus Tuesday to protest President Trump’s ban on travelers from seven mostly Muslim nations and his vow to build a wall on the Mexican border.
One supporter was particularly special to the students: their own college's president, Robert L. Barchi.
“I am bothered the most by the inherent way [Trump’s] act singles out a single group of individuals who hold dear to the Muslim faith,” Barchi told the crowd.
He said that he stood behind the university’s 8,000 Muslim students and that about 200 students and faculty had been directly affected by Trump’s travel ban.
“Rutgers Solidarity: #NoBanNoWall” was organized by several Muslim student organizations and other advocacy groups on campus, according to Hala Alhosh, one of the event planners.
The crowd filled the entire front of Brower Commons and spilled into College Avenue. Before speakers took the stage and protesters marched to Hamilton Street, Muslim members of the campus community prayed together on a blue tarp spread across College Avenue.
Organizers had specifically called on Barchi to publicly disavow Trump’s immigration ban and promise to never subject the university to any kind of registration system targeting Muslim students.
Last week, Barchi joined hundreds of college presidents calling for the extension of protections from deportation that former President Barack Obama had ordered for “Dreamers” – undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.
Alhosh, 22, a Syrian-American studying Middle Eastern studies and religion, said Trump’s refugee ban had indirectly hit home. Her parents had immigrated to the United States from Syria in the 1950s. While members of her immediate family are naturalized citizens, she said, her extended family remains in Damascus. While they remain relatively safe from the civil war in Syria, Alhosh said, they are fearful of the government there and remain guarded in what they say in phone calls.
The protest also drew some pro-Trump demonstrators, who held American flags and Trump banners.
“There are Republicans on campus who support Trump,” said Nick Knight, 21, a junior computer science major. “We want people to see both sides.” Knight said Trump’s actions were done out of safety concerns and were not meant to hurt Muslims.
That sentiment was not shared by New Brunswick resident Allison Martyn, 35. She held a sign that said, “My family didn’t survive two dictators to put up with this! First generation American against hate.” Her family emigrated from what is now Belarus to Germany before finally arriving in the U.S. in 1950, she said.
Howard Swerdloff, a lecturer in the university’s writing program who brought along his dog, Nellie, said he was attending the march to show support for his students, some of whom are affected by Trump’s immigration ban.
Some event organizers declined to provide their last names for fear they would be subjected to negative reactions. Several international students attending Rutgers also declined to be interviewed, fearing that could inhibit them from traveling home and back to the U.S.