Creighton’s Turning Point USA chapter (TPUSA) hosted a panel discussion on immigration last week that sparked much controversy, backlash and unrest among the student body.
On Wednesday, March 27 in the Skutt Ballroom, TPUSA hosted Anna Paulina, director of Latino engagement and Dr. Mark Christian, the founder of the Global Faith Institute, which the Southern Poverty Law Center listed as an anti-Muslim hate group.
The panel was supposed to include two more members: Jane Kleeb, the chairwoman of the Nebraska Democratic Party, and Sergio Sosa, Executive Director of the Heartland Workers Center in Omaha. However, Kleeb sent an email the weekend prior to the event informing TPUSA that they would not be in attendance.
The email read, “Sergio and I spoke over the weekend and we decided we cannot participate in the panel. We are happy to host a conversation by community groups on incursion.”
Neither Kleeb nor Sosa could be reached via email for details on their cancellation.
In her introduction, Haley Supergan, College of Arts and Sciences junior and president of the TPUSA chapter, said, “We are saddened by their last-minute cancellation without apology or explanation…We worked extremely hard to give you all a well-balanced panel comprised of members of multiple parties and political backgrounds.”
Supergan also said that they attempted to find last-minute replacements to offer viewpoints from the other side, but they failed to do so.
However, both panelists started off with a 10-minute summary of their background and their personal opinions on the current immigration system in the U.S. and how they believe it should be improved.
Paulina is a southern California native and a second-generation American with extended family still residing in Mexico. She has a military background in the U.S. Air Force and National Guard, and attended the University of West Florida. Paulina is currently involved in five different non-profit organizations, including Veterans for Child Rescue, which she highlighted during the event.
According to their website, the organization’s mission is “raising awareness about the epidemic of sex trafficking, rescuing victims, and putting predators behind bars,” specifically at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Paulina said that 18,000 women have been trafficked across the border annually, 16,000 of which are children.
“These are children who are raped and sold,” Paulina said. “It is in my opinion that the sex-trafficking issue has been something that’s been basically politicized and it’s been politicized as a way to keep America divided instead of solve the issue of immigration, which by the way, for the past 15 years, has been an issue that we have been unable to talk on.”
In regards to immigration, Paulina said that she believes this sex-trafficking epidemic is directly correlated to illegal immigration, and supports securing the border with a wall.
“There’s no one to fight for these people,” Paulina said. “People are too afraid to speak out against the wrongs of [illegal immigrants] exploiting and to call out politicians who are using them for voting blocks.”
She shared a story about her grandmother coming across the border legally, but bringing her brothers over illegally.
“Of course, [her brothers] hate the new administration because they’re trying to enforce these laws. I’m sorry, but if you don’t do it the right way, that’s too bad. [Illegal immigrants] are never going to become functioning members of society,” Paulina said.
Christian is a former Muslim from Cairo, Egypt. He left Islam at the age of 12, converted to Christianity at 25 and later founded the Global Faith Institute.
According to Global Faith’s website, they “are ambassadors of Jesus Christ, advocates for the victims of Islam, and are champions of the U.S. Constitution.”
“I was a very devout Muslim and I was memorizing the Quran at an early age,” Christian said. “You cannot deny the fact that there is a big part of Islam that believes that Muslims are superior and supreme over all nations, will succeed and take over all nations, and establish a kingdom. That is a serious problem we are facing.”
Christian also mentioned that Americans should “stop acting as a victim” because “Islam is not a minority; they are a majority and have the most resources.”
Christian himself was an immigrant and said that he “never lived one second as an illegal immigrant,” and he did so deliberately.
“You can adopt kids but you cannot have kids living in your house without your permission,” Christian said. “This is how I see the difference between illegal immigration and legal immigration. From the perspective of the left telling us that we should open borders and we have leniency in our legal immigration process, I think it is doing disservice to the country and also to the immigrants themselves.”
In addition, Christian asked the question, “How can we expect anybody who starts their life in the U.S. by breaking the law to continue their life abiding by the law? I think this is kind of crazy to think it so.”
In the question and answer session of the event, Christian was addressed by a student for calling the Democratic party the “party of open borders.”
He responded, “Did anybody hear me say that? I said that the left is advocating for illegal immigration. I did not say they were open border. I did not mention that whatsoever.”
However, later he went onto say, “If the left is not the party of an open border, why are they against putting a wall at the door?”
Christian also stated, “Jesus said ‘love your neighbor.’ My neighbor is a legal resident next door, not somebody who just jumped and moved in next door.”
This comment, which he said later was a joke, caused some students to walk out of the event. When debating with a student, he also remarked, “In the Middle East, we talk over each other. In America, we don’t.”
The event concluded amid a debate between Christian and Fahad Hazazi, a College of Arts and Sciences sophomore.
“The event absolutely went too south and we gained nothing from it except that TPUSA brought a hate group according to the definition of hate groups by the FBI,” Hazazi said. “My religion and my prophet got assaulted on Creighton’s campus which I felt was my home. But after that I feel assaulted, unwelcome, disappointed and unsafe.”
Yasmine Jakmouj, a College of Arts and Sciences sophomore, was one of the students who left the event before it had concluded. She said that she didn’t feel that it was an event about immigration; rather, it was a “personal attack on my religion and faith.”
“As a student at a faith-based institution, it was deeply troubling for me to listen to people speak in such hateful ways with a Creighton seal in front of them,” Jakmouj said. “I have never felt so hurt and unwelcome on Creighton's campus. I hope they realize the effect this had on all students and not just those of the Islamic faith.”
Areej Khawari, a College of Arts and Sciences senior and the president of the Muslim Student Association, also attended the event and walked out before its end.
“What Dr. Mark did was openly insult Islam in a University that taught me to accept all people regardless of their backgrounds,” Khawari said. “This has made me feel very uncomfortable because I have always felt like home, welcomed and accepted at Creighton and after this incident, I felt like it might not be this safe place where I would feel comfortable being me and expressing my identity as a Muslim woman.”
She also added that she believes the fact that Christian was allowed to speak on campus was “unacceptable considering that he openly expressed and spread hate against Islam on his institution’s website.”
College of Arts and Sciences senior Mallory Cranwell was also shocked that Christian was permitted to speak on campus, saying she questioned “why administration allowed for lies and hate to be spread towards Muslims and immigrants from our Student Center, next to a podium that reads ‘Creighton University.’”
“Students are calling on administration to either hold our values to a higher degree or loosen the restrictions on who [has] space to be a club and host events,” Cranwell said. “First and foremost, students need to feel safe and accepted on campus. Unfortunately, the more I meet with students, the more I am learning that many do not feel safe or welcome here.”
Cranwell added that she has sat down and spoken with students who are unable to sleep or study because they are so offended that the University created space for Christian.
“I am afraid that administration will be slow to respond to student requests and calls to action,” she said.“This should not be a debate over free speech. It is a debate on Creighton’s mission and values and whether every member of this community is striving to be a person for and with others.”
Supergan, president of the TPUSA chapter, said she thought the event went well in presenting different, challenging ideas.
“I think that we were really able to allow people to see new perspectives and whether they took those into consideration or not is their individual prerogative,” Supergan said. “Our main goal as an organization is to inform, educate and challenge ideas.”
Michele Bogard, associate vice provost for student engagement, said that TPUSA, “applied through the proper channels to host a balanced panel discussion,” and when the two speakers with opposing viewpoints cancelled, they did try to find another member to participate.
“As the Creighton student handbook states, ‘Creighton University does not necessarily endorse the views reflected and opinions expressed by registered student organization members or during their events,’” Bogard said.
Christopher Whitt, vice provost of institutional diversity and inclusion, didn’t attend the event, but it has since been brought to his attention.
“Those speakers do not align with our mission from what I’ve seen in terms of both the things that they’ve said and the way that they presented themselves,” Whitt said.
However, he did add that since Creighton is a Jesuit institution, the University has been placed in a diverse community in Omaha.
“They were going to engage in dialogue with the people who were there and some of those people are going to agree and disagree and that’s when, as institutions, as communities, the opportunity arises to really stand up for our mission and who we are and who we desire to be more than being dragged down by people who have negative things to say,” Witt said.
“A few things that we have to be very careful on is that we are respecting each other’s humanity. If we have a particular speaker or a particular line of rhetoric that goes beyond disagreeing with facts and starts to go into basically diminishing or trying to overlook the humanity of any particular individual or group, that’s when we’ve taken a bridge too far and we’ve really started to step away from our core values.”