Alumni Letter to Mo Copeland Seeks Response to Travel Ban

By Jethro Swain

In second grade I moved from Greenville, South Carolina to Portland, Oregon. It was just me and my dad living in my Aunt’s vacant, third story apartment on Davis and 22nd for the first month while my mom and sister stayed back to finish with the move. The first days of second grade my dad dressed me up as a pint-sized version of himself; in a long sleeve collared shirt and slacks. However, since it was early September, it was still hot in Oregon. The fifth day of school was a particularly hot day, apparently, because I was overheating in my preppy, business look. Bridlemile Elementary School had no air conditioning, so the only thing to keep my class cool was one large fan, across the room from where I was sitting. The longer the day went on the hotter I got, but I didn’t want to speak up about it. I was embarrassed. Since I was afraid to stand out from everyone else, I stayed silent, and let my state grow worse and worse.

*****

This Tuesday, February 14, a letter was sent to Mo Copeland. The letter, created by OES alumni, has over 90 signatures and counting — ranging from the class of 1980 all the way to the class of 2016, including former Head of Upper School Jordan Elliott.

It starts with this:

Dear Mo,

We write to you today as alumni deeply concerned with OES’ lack of action in the face of recent events that threaten our shared sense of decency and justice, as well as the school’s own educational mission.

The events it’s referring to are President Donald Trump’s executive orders to ban members of certain countries from entering the United States. The ban has sparked immense controversy throughout the country, and the world.

Within the OES community, multiple requests from faculty members to denounce the travel ban were not heard or simply ignored. Social media posts by OES from the women’s march were taken down shortly after being posted. The Alumni Letter criticizes how, in the opinion of the authors and signatories, OES has been inactive in the recent months following the travel ban, and has done more harm than it has realized by staying silent. The writers state that OES’, “appeasement makes a mockery of the idea that we are ‘Always Open.’” The message of the letter can be summed up in one extracted sentenced:

We ask that OES publicly speak out against President Trump’s immigration ban, and that it strongly affirm and respect its commitment to multiculturalism, its international students, and all marginalized people.

Since the ban was first issued on January 27th, and even since the second Tuesday of last November, many political, religious, and business organizations have spoken out on the issue, releasing statements that affirm where their organization stands.

With so many groups speaking out, what sort of message does remaining silent give? That’s the question the letter asks of OES, since OES has yet to make a clear public statement to the entire community on where it stands.

When asked by the Dig for a comment, Mo Copeland responded. She first apologized to the authors of the letter for responding to the Dig, because of a short time frame before this article was released, before she had a chance to respond to them. She then asked to share a letter of her own that was sent to all OES staff three days after the immigration ban was announced. The letter states:

Dear Friends,

Over the last few days, it has become clear that many of President Trump’s campaign promises are being realized and may impact our school community, in particular, the immigration and travel ban executive order issued on Friday.

I want everyone to know that members of our community who are from outside the United States, have family members who may be impacted, or come from different religious backgrounds, will continue to be protected and supported by the school.

The letter addresses the problems of the immigration ban, encourages conversation, and restates OES’ core values. She ended her response with this statement:

We, as a school, value all voices and believe in dialogue and conversation as a way to uncover deep truths. I am more than happy to begin that dialogue with the alumni who wrote and signed the letter to me from yesterday. I have already responded to a group of parents who have asked to engage on this topic, and I look forward to that conversation.

Mo’s letter suffers in comparison to the Episcopal Bishop of Oregon, Michael Hanley, who has released a statement that makes clear the church’s response to the result of the election, dating back to November. Rt. Rev. Michael Hanley said this in his statement:

There are moments in our history in which the Church is presented with an opportunity to affirm who we are, and who we endeavor to be. Too often, we have been passive in the face of injustice, bigotry, and oppression…As a people committed to the incarnation of God in the human body of Jesus Christ and the mystical body of the gathered community, we affirm that our very bodies must serve the cause of healing, love and justice.

In addition, Catlin Gabel Head of School Tim Bazemore released this statement in response to the travel ban:

I must speak out, however, against a government action that violates basic human rights and our school’s mission and values. I believe that last Friday’s Executive Order banning Syrian refugees, temporarily barring entry to citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries, and suspending the Refugee Admissions Program is antithetical to the goals of educating your children.

So why is it that OES has not come out to follow in the footsteps of our sister school and our Episcopalian leader? So far OES has chosen to stay silent, and our silence may speak louder words.

Since November 8th, the Upper School community has tried to poke and prod these large, influential issues, and get people to talk about what’s happening. But nothing has seemed to really work, effectively at least. Currently morale around the school seems down; teachers and students aren’t speaking honestly. Maybe that’s because it can’t work unless we have clear direction from our administration. We should remember that to do nothing is to make a choice.

Now it’s entirely clear where a large group of alumni, Catlin Gabel, and Oregon Bishop Michael Hanley stand on this issue. The letter, with its signatures and language, resonates a meaningful message to our community, and puts an ultimatum on the table for OES; either speak or let its silence do all of the talking. The alumni letter ends with two powerful statements:

We believe that the consequences of remaining silent through this moment will far outweigh the costs of taking action.

OES can and must be a powerful force for good. That is the institution we believe in. We need it now more than ever.

*****

Towards the end of my fifth day of second grade, I couldn’t hold in my suffering any longer. I was so hot that it hurt, and I began to cry. I slowly let out tears and sniffles, and eventually the eyes of the entire classroom were on me. I was instructed to ditch the collared shirt for my white undershirt, and I was moved to a seat right in front of the fan. If I had told my teacher I was hot from the very beginning, I would have resolved the situation immediately. What I was trying to avoid the whole day, embarrassment, had come to fruition in the worst way. In the end, I didn’t say anything because I was scared of standing out from all my new peers, but being silent quickly became the worst thing I could’ve done.


 

Alumni Letter To Mo

Catlin Head of School Tim Bazemore’s Statement

Mo’s letter to faculty

Rt. Rev. Michael Hanley’s Statement 

 

 

 

 

8 thoughts on “Alumni Letter to Mo Copeland Seeks Response to Travel Ban

  1. I can understand why some within the OES community are calling for Mo Copeland to “publicly speak out against President Trump’s immigration order”. At the same time there are many people within the OES community who appreciate Mo’s words – “We, as a school, value all voices and believe in dialogue and conversation as a way to uncover deep truths.” If Mo takes one side or the other, then many voices will be left out of the conversation. Also in a situation like this when a person of authority makes a one sided statement it excludes those within the community who view a situation differently. Since OES stresses inclusivity and respect for differences, then it’s important to make our community one that embraces the many views held within the greater community.

    • Joel,

      As one of the alumni who signed this letter, I must strongly disagree. In instances of oppression and bigotry — such as Trump’s executive order which is, on its face, discriminatory and unconstitutional — there is no other side. Certainly, there should be discussions within the school about why the executive order is harmful to many people, including many in the OES community, but those discussions should not go so far as to endorse the idea that perhaps it is right to ban people from entering this country on the basis of where they were born or their religious identity.

      Either OES will take a stand on this issue as so many others — including the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon — already have, or the school will speak with its silence. I certainly hope that, as an educational institution that emphasizes its students’ power for good, OES will not traffic in the legitimization of discriminatory ideas at this important time.

      I also cannot help but notice the irony that many of the same voices within OES that are currently calling for “both sides” to be heard are the same voices who were not interested in engaging in the conversations about intercultural competency put forward by members of last year’s senior class. This is not a personal attack, but rather a general observation.

      I hope that when those within the OES community look back at this time of great constitutional and moral crisis, they will not regret that they did not speak up or that they took too long to do so.

      Nathan ’16

      • While I don’t disagree that the precious few at OES whose political opinion opposes that of the hyper-liberal majority do not do enough to make their voice heard and push conversation, I think it’s disingenuous to suggest that those calling for a more balanced conversation are simply uninterested in discussions about, as you’ve put it, intercultural competency. “Affinity” groups like your brain-child “Exploring Whiteness” are alienating from the name of the group itself to the idea behind it — teaching white kids that their societal leg-up is inherent within their skin color. This is not an opinion shared by many conservatives! Of course walking into a conversation that’s already dismissed your view as invalid is frightening, and I can understand the view of those at OES who feel that it’s too dangerous to suggest an alternative perspective.

        I absolutely do not endorse the travel ban. I think it’s wrong. But I also think it’s telling that, in the same breath, you can say that opening the dialogue on the travel ban with opposing opinions is wrong, but then go on to besmirch those who don’t open schoolwide dialogue, with… well… opposing opinions.

        And it’s certainly not just you. A friend of mine recently got into a discussion about the Women’s March with another student, and, when the conversation was finished, the student took to social media to smear him, simply for trying to engage in open dialogue.

        Is the ban discrimanatory? Anti-constitutional? I absolutely think so! But if this truth is so blatantly self-evident, then why must you shut down the opposite opinion? After all, if it’s so clearly wrong and immoral, it shouldn’t be hard to defeat.

        If you think that OES has a duty to call upon its Episcopalian values when approaching the travel ban, I think that’s legitimate. But saying that the school must refuse to entertain the opposite side (even in study) is, regardless of how foul you think it may be, in my opinion, a truly pernicious idea.

  2. YES, EXACTLY. Just not those views from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen, or Somalia (Politifact). “I hereby proclaim that the entry of nationals of Syria as refugees is detrimental to the interests of the United States and thus suspend any such entry until such time as I have determined that sufficient changes have been made to the USRAP to ensure that admission of Syrian refugees is consistent with the national interest.” (Donald Trump: White House EO) If we Oregon Episcopal School truly do value being “Aways Open”, how does a school not take a position on an executive order that literally calls for our country to be closed to certain parts of the world? A call for openness shouldn’t warrant an apology. A call for openness doesn’t have a political side. A call for openness requires integrity, courage, and compassion for those we may never meet. So just ask yourself this:

    “If you don’t stick to your values when they’re being tested, they’re not values: they’re hobbies.” – Jon Stewart

  3. The travel ban is not a political inconvenience for OES. It is an un-American, un-Constitutional, crisis which specifically scapegoats a religious group for discrimination and criminalization. It is narrow-minded, inept, illegal, bigoted, bad for business, education and very, very dangerous for our country, placing a target on the USA’s back from terrorists looking for another opening to attack us.
    Do the right thing Mo and support and protect the OES and Episcopal community, students and families. Make a statement decrying this tragic and shameful Executive Order.

  4. I was hoping for something less sanitized and wishy-washy from the current head of school. Power for good relies on speaking with conviction in times of trouble, not standing on the sidelines to wait and see what happens for fear of wanting to call a spade a spade. Why are you holding back, Mo?

  5. I think most of us would support the goal of “dialogue and conversation as a way to uncover deep truths.” In that light, I think it is important to consider whether the policies and approach adopted by OES to this point have been successful in fostering dialogue on issues of inclusivity and respect, or have served unintentionally to suppress it. What I hear described both by Jethro Swain and by the commenters is not the healthy and vibrant engagement we all hope for from both sides, but rather mistrust, disappointment, and the relative absence of open and respectful discussion. By remaining silent on our most deeply troubling and far-reaching issues, it may be that OES has been holding up silence as the model of appropriate behavior– even as it expects students to practice engagement.

    Perhaps the administration simply wishes to avoid playing favorites, and to support the wide diversity of opinions held across the student body. But silence breeds further silence, it does not encourage deeper discussion. It teaches that certain subjects are out of bounds. If nothing else, the administration should consider what steps can be taken now and in the future to affirm that speaking honestly is preferable to keeping silent.

  6. I agree. Diversity of opinions is essential to education, development, and civility. However, this student/alumni response and letter isn’t a “liberal” judgment of a Trump policy, but rather an exposure to an underlying lack of value in openness. For a school whose motto is “Always Open” OES don’t seem to take action on taking a position about being always open. If the U.S. were to establish internment camps for Japanese-Americans again or put into order another Chinese Exclusion Act, would OES not take a stand –because then that would be bias, right? It would close off discussion, and that’s not a good thing. However, what about those students who are now alienated by law? They can’t even be part of the discussion cause the “law” doesn’t even allow them to be. Refugees from Syria or other countries affected by Trump’s quarantine couldn’t even be part of the discussion cause they couldn’t come into the country. How is this being, “Always Open”? How is standing silent or passively watching history happen acting on the values of being “Always Open” if those people who are a part of defining diversity can’t even be a part of it due to a President’s actions? Oregon Episcopal School is bias, no doubt. That is not a reason to discredit a position it may take on an issue. Voices and discussions aren’t silenced by a majority or institution. Voices fall silent when they fail to be properly built with principles, integrity, and compassion. If the foundation and access for even being able to talk about openness is even partially closed, then that is not open. Closing entry to certain countries isn’t being open. Separate, but equal is not equality.

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