I was visiting my old boarding school, the UWC of the Atlantic, when the news about Trump’s order banning people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US (commonly known as “Muslim Ban”) broke out. The outrage in the school shook everyone, from students to staff members. As an international residential school, UWC Atlantic College has a high number of students who come from one of the seven countries President Trump has targeted. Some of them are first or second-generation refugees, like a girl from Syria who has just finished her US college applications and has no idea if she will ever be able to continue her education there.
This order changed everything. In that moment, it didn’t matter that we were people from 89 different nationalities. Young people from all the corners of the world joined together to raise their voice against a cruel, religious-based injustice. In less than 24 hours, students and staff members had organised coaches to Cardiff, where a protest was going to take place. With just a few hours notice, 200 out of the 360 people living at the college jumped right on those coaches to rebel against an institution threatening their friends’ future.
“Muslim rights are human rights”.
“Say it loud, say it clear: refugees are welcome here”.
Queen Street was the pluralist arena that many dream about: the roads of Cardiff were filled with people of any faith, ethnic and cultural background. The anger and outrage of the population was so high that individuals of all ages left their cosy and warm homes to join the fight. Many, from academics to journalists (including Laurie Penny in the latest issue of the New Statesman) are drawing parallelisms between what is happening now and what happened in inter-war Germany with the rise of Hitler. I felt like one of the motivations that drew such a diverse group of people in the same place, for the same battle, is the fear that Martin Niemöller put into words in his famous sermon: “Then they came for me-and there was no one left to speak for me”.
Because that’s the thing; who knows who’s next? Racism and modern America have been walking hand in hand since its inception: the fear of immigrants and minorities is nothing new. Any one of us could be targeted at any point. As a gay man, it would scare me to step into a country that has a Vice President who believes in shock therapy to “cure” LGBT people. The overwhelming support of the young for this protest not only in Cardiff, but throughout the world, made me understand that there is only one weapon that can bend the fear of diversity that is rooting itself in the US institutions: education.
At the rally, 200 students aged 16 to 19 years old armed themselves with posters, flags and with all the voice they had in their lungs, rebelled together. It’s not rocket science, it’s a very simple concept: we know we can all live together. Under the flag of the United World College movement, we believe that diversity is something that makes us stronger rather than weaker. We have been taught the principles of equality within diversity. And in a world where people are held from entering a state based on their religious belief, this is the last value we can hold on to.
“International education” doesn’t necessarily mean going to an international school. It means making the learning experience of young people as accepting and diverse as possible. Teachers in Italy for example, have a knee-jerk response when pupils from different faiths share the same classroom and are instructed to take the Catholic cross off the wall. That is going to do nothing but increase the divide between the pupils and their families. Wouldn’t it be more logical to add symbols from different religions, to embrace a culture of unity and of “building bridges rather than walls”? The fear of crossing the barrier of “cultural insensitiveness” is just too high. The significance of these actions is huge but it’s everyday impact is relatively small, so we let it pass without realising that by doing that we’re cultivating a culture of division rather than unity.
This is just one of the many facets with which education can create a new generation of critical thinkers who understand that diversity is an asset rather than a liability. For two years, I shared a room with people with three different nationalities and a campus with people from 90 different ones. An education that embraces people from all over the world and encourages them to share their culture with their peers works and the Cardiff protest showed it. In that moment, the borders that make us American, British, Italian, Syrian, or any other, all disappeared like smoke. We were simply humans, fighting for our own rights and the ones of our friends. Simply holding a flag, marching together.