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Lehman College: City University of New York
January 30, 2017

A Message from Lehman College President José Luis Cruz

Dear campus community:

This is my third attempt to frame my “Welcome to Spring 2017” message to the students, faculty and staff of Lehman College of The City University of New York.

The tone of the first draft, written before President Trump’s Executive Order on Immigration, was ebullient. I had decided to focus inward and not let the noise in the world drown the promise of the spring:

“With memories of the holiday festivities held at Lehman College in December still lingering, the Spring 2017 semester has begun. Soon, the days will be brimming with academic endeavors, intriguing lectures and presentations, important scientific research, meaningful scholarly pursuits, impactful community service…”

The tone of the second draft, written shortly after the aftermath of the ill-executed executive order began to manifest itself, was defiant:

"Today we find ourselves in a very different world than we did before we adjourned for the winter break. But we will not allow the darkness and uncertainty that surrounds us to cloud our vision, confuse our mission, or constrain our ambition…"

Neither seemed quite right. I wondered if I should refer back to CUNY’s previous communications regarding our commitment to immigrants; provide links to guidance developed by the CUNY School of Law; or remind those with questions or concerns that our College provides immigration services in the Office of Community Engagement.

But how to do this in 750 words or less? The task at hand seemed impossible to accomplish, and it was already Sunday afternoon…

Fortuitously, I had to set the draft aside to attend the swearing in ceremony of the Hon. Adriano Espaillat, the newly elected U.S. Representative for New York’s 13th Congressional District and the first-ever Dominican-American member of Congress. The event, held at Yeshiva University, was packed with elected officials, community leaders, constituents, family and friends. The crowd was diverse in all possible ways, yet unified in their appreciation of the historical moment they were about to witness and in their concern with the unfolding drama in cities and airports across our country.

The mood in the room? Ebullient and defiant. The joy and optimistic outlook of having elected to Congress the first Dominican-American, who refers to himself as a “Latino of African descent,” and who arrived in this country as an undocumented immigrant, and then went on to earn a degree from Queens College, would not be undermined by the President’s actions. On the contrary, the knowledge that Congressman Espaillat will be sitting now on the Foreign Affairs Committee made his achievement all the more meaningful and comforting.

And that’s when I realized that to strike the right tone for this message, I had to embrace the cognitive dissonance dictated by these the times we live in. Because the truth is, that in the act of advancing our College’s mission to sustain our principles, we can extract joy from defiance.

So today, I set my writing anxieties aside and simply welcome you to a semester that will be like no other; encourage you to redouble your efforts to meet your full potential as teachers, learners, scholars, and change agents; and invite you to focus on the impact of our individual and collective work rather than on the magnitude of the challenges we face.

At Lehman, we are proud of the nearly 40 percent of students here who were born outside the United States, speak 91 languages other than English, and represent the hopes and aspirations of more than 140 ancestries. And we are proud of the high proportion of first-generation students we serve, as well as the many new Americans that have chosen Lehman College as their alma mater.

At this point, CUNY recommends that concerned immigrant and non-immigrant students, faculty and staff avoid travel outside the United States until the issues surrounding enforcement of the President Trump’s order are clarified. The University’s commitment to its mission is strong, as revealed in Chancellor Milliken’s most recent statement on this matter.

But rest assured, in conjunction with CUNY, we will continue to monitor and assess any and all policies and practices that could affect our students, faculty and staff, and do all that is within the power afforded to us by law to support and protect our campus community – including exercising our right to raise our voice against injustice and fiercely advocate for our ideals.

Now, let’s get the job done. See you around campus.


José Luis Cruz, Ph.D.
President, Lehman College
The City University of New York