Remarks at the President's Forum on Immigration and Inclusion

President’s Forum on Immigration and Inclusion

April 19, 2017

KIPJ Theatre

Welcome to this special President’s Forum on Immigration and Inclusion. Many of you are aware of our new Envisioning 2024 strategic plan that was approved by our Board of Trustees this past fall. This plan, which was developed in collaboration with our university community, envisions a bold and ambitious future for USD as we look ahead to our 75th anniversary in the year 2024. It’s a very exciting time to be at the university as we transition this written plan into a plan of action.

One of the outcomes of Envisioning 2024 is the reaffirmation of our mission statement and the creation of a new vision statement for the university. I think these statements are worth repeating, as they speak to the reasons why we are gathered together here this evening. 

Our enduring mission statement reads:

The University of San Diego is a Roman Catholic institution committed to advancing academic excellence, expanding liberal and professional knowledge, creating a diverse and inclusive community, and preparing leaders dedicated to ethical conduct and compassionate service.

From this mission statement, we derive our five core values of Academic Excellence, Knowledge, Community, Ethical Conduct and Compassionate Service.

Our new vision statement, which complements and builds upon these values, is a forward-looking statement that reflects what we aspire to be when we celebrate our 75th anniversary in the year 2024. Our vision statement reads:

The University of San Diego sets the standard for an engaged, contemporary Catholic university where innovative Changemakers confront humanity’s urgent challenges.

As we strive to fulfil our vision of “setting the standard for an engaged, contemporary Catholic university,” we are already building upon a solid foundation. This unique community of Changemakers possesses a special charism—an authentic recognition of the sanctity of life, the dignity of the individual as created in the image and likeness of God, and the human imperative to care for our world and one another. Our culture of care is welcoming and inclusive, and as members of the Torero family, we live out the principles of Catholic social justice. I am very proud to be part of a community that continuously demonstrates empathy in the classroom and in communities around the world. The empathy and compassion of our students and faculty are formed through the multiple lenses, life experiences, environments, and struggles of others.

Our vision also calls on us to be innovative Changemakers that confront humanity’s urgent challenges.

As a contemporary Catholic university, we take to heart the words of Pope Francis in his encyclical “On Care for Our Common Home” where he calls out an urgent challenge related to the environment and how environmental degradation is disproportionately impacting the poor and the most vulnerable. We are turning the pope’s call for dialogue into action by creating a pathway in our Envisioning 2024 strategic plan focused on Care for Our Common Home. We are launching our Climate Action Plan and collaborating with several other entities in San Diego and across the country in confronting environmental challenges. 

Our forum this evening takes to heart the words of Robert McElroy, Bishop of San Diego, who has been very vocal about another one of humanity’s urgent challenges, and that is to “welcome the stranger.”

In response to President Trump's executive order regarding U.S. immigration policy, Bishop McElroy stated the following: 

“The Gospel mandate to ‘welcome the stranger’ is a searing responsibility, not only in our personal lives, but also in guiding our efforts to create a just society in a world filled with suffering and turmoil. For this reason, the historic identity of the United States as a safe haven for refugees fleeing war and persecution is both a source of justifiable pride and unswerving religious commitment, even as we recognize that at shameful moments in our national history, prejudice, fear and ignorance have led our country to abandon that identity.”

The Bishop also reminds us that the Holy Family—Jesus, Mary and Joseph—were themselves Middle Eastern refugees fleeing government oppression.

Bishop McElroy calls on us to take action, and that action comes naturally to us.

In fact, in the weeks leading up to the presidential election, I joined more than 30 leaders in higher education, foreign policy, peacebuilding and national security in signing a joint statement urging America’s next president to pursue policies and practices that foster mutual understanding and make our country more welcoming and globally engaged.

Following the presidential election, I joined more than 90 university presidents from across the country in signing a joint statement directed to our country’s leaders that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals—or DACA process— should be upheld, continued and expanded. International and immigrant students at the University of San Diego, including those who have benefited from DACA, have been outstanding student scholars and student leaders, serving our campus, our local community, and communities around the world.

In November, we hosted the Catholic Immigrant Integration Initiative Conference with Catholic Charities of San Diego, the Center for Migration Studies of New York and the Diocese of San Diego. This annual event was all about welcoming, empowering and caring for the well-being of migrants, immigrants and refugees.

In the aftermath of President Trump's executive order on immigration, our International Center and Human Resources staffs reached out to all of our students and employees on visas from the areas affected by the executive order to extend a message of solidarity and remind them of the support services available both on and off our campus.

We reaffirmed our commitment to welcoming people to our campus community regardless of their faith or country of origin. This is part of our DNA. As a university located near an international boarder, the principles of access and inclusion have deep roots on our campus. Our students and faculty come to us from all over the world. We have students from 75 different nations on campus. More than 8 percent of our students are international. We are a community of immigrants, the children and grandchildren of immigrants, and we cherish our diverse learning community.

In other actions, we endorsed the statement issued by the Chair of the U.S. Bishops' committee on migration as well as the statement issued by the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.

We established a presidential task force to address potential changes to immigration policy and enforcement. The task force created a thoughtful set of recommendations to help protect our international and immigrant students, faculty, staff and their families.

One of the task force recommendations included the creation of a dedicated website that we launched in January that features information about the current national dialogue on potential changes to immigration policy and enforcement and how we can best support our campus community, particularly our students who are immigrants, including those who are eligible for DACA. The website features our culture of care principles that reflect all the ways in which we stand in solidarity with our immigrant Torero family members, including counseling, pastoral and legal services available on and off our campus for our students, employees, their families and members of our local community. Site visitors can explore a calendar featuring the many events we have hosted on our campus this spring related to the topic of immigration, inclusion and human dignity.

The task force, together with Our Office of the General Counsel, Center for Inclusion and Diversity, and Department of Human Resources, have been carefully monitoring the national dialogue on immigration policy and enforcement throughout the spring semester. They have also been collaborating with our national higher education associations to provide updates to our impacted community members and their families as we confront any potential forms of discrimination and injustice and offer assurances of support, safety and solidarity to those in need.

We are at a critical moment in our nation’s history. There are those among us in the United States who would like for us to return to a time when whole segments of society were silent or invisible. As a university community, we must stand as an example of openness and inclusion. We must not give into despair or anger. We must remain optimistic and hopeful.

This President’s Forum on Immigration and Inclusion is yet another opportunity for us to get out of our comfort zones, get deeply involved in the community, and to “walk in the shoes of others” as we recognize the value in every person, no matter who they are, where they were born or what they do for a living.

Let’s do our part to help our communities and our nation transform—as Bishop McElroy has said—from a culture of grievance to a culture of solidarity.

James THarris III, DEd