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Trump's Travel Ban and Embodied Activism

What can academic organizations do?
By Heather K. Olson Beal with Brent D. Beal and Paul J. P. Sandul

Barack Obama was president for my first eight years as an education professor. Although I was thrilled when he was elected, his administration’s education policies were ultimately disappointing. The Race to the Top program and the Department of Education under Arne Duncan contributed to the growth of charter schools and to the continued marketization of public education. Nevertheless, as long as Obama was at the helm, I felt comfortable speaking out for progressive causes affecting P–20 students. Obama advocated for the oppressed and marginalized, he moderately expanded LGBTQ rights, and he regularly spoke about issues that are important to me as an educator, like universal pre-K and the role of race, socioeconomic status, and language in educa­tional achievement.

Fast forward to my ninth year as a faculty member at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, in deep east Texas. Like many others, I was taken by surprise by the election of Donald Trump in November 2016—a reaction symptomatic of my white privilege, no doubt. Has the role that I should play as a professor changed now that Trump is in office? If so, how? Are we scholars first, then citizens? Or citizens first, then scholars? Should we be activists? I respect professors who have engaged in activism—John Dewey, Michel Foucault, Angela Davis—and, more recently, University of Wisconsin professor William Cronon (who has been a harsh and public critic of Governor Scott Walker). Professors and students protested Jim Crow and the Vietnam War together.

The transition from the forty-fourth to the forty-fifth president has radically changed my daily life. Since Trump’s inauguration, I have spent more time engaged in direct political activism than I have spent on it, cumulatively, in the past twenty-five years. I’ve worked ten to fifteen hours a week organizing people, organizing or attending rallies, starting and joining political groups, and calling and writing my state and federal legislators. I have tenure, so I don’t worry too much about how this newfound activism might affect my job security. It does give me some pause, though—particularly since I live in a deep-red section of the rural American South. 

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Heather K. Olson Beal is an associ­ate professor of secondary education at Stephen F. Austin State University. Her scholarship examines the issues of school choice, second language education, and the preparation of teachers to meet the needs of English language learners. Brent D. Beal is an associate professor of manage­ment at the University of Texas at Tyler. He teaches strategic management and writes about corporate social responsibility and income inequality. Paul J. P. Sandul is associate professor of history at Stephen F. Austin State University, where he teaches courses in American history, urban history, public history, oral history, and cultural mem­ory. He is the author of California Dreaming: Boosterism, Memory, and Rural Suburbs in the Golden State (2014).

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