Meleeka Akbarpour, a sophomore majoring in health promotion and disease prevention, was looking forward to seeing her grandmother for the first time this year. Akbarpour’s grandmother, an Iranian citizen and United States permanent resident, had planned to visit the U.S. and Canada to witness the birth of a grandchild.
But after President Donald Trump issued an executive order which barred citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, including Iran, from entering or leaving the country, Akbarpour started to worry that she would not be able to see her grandmother anytime soon.
“With my grandma’s green card, she has to be in the U.S. at least every six months, or else her green card can be revoked,” Akbarpour said. “I questioned if [the government is] doing this indirectly to revoke some people’s green cards.”
Though the ban has been temporarily blocked by a federal judge, Akbarpour is one of many USC students who was affected by Trump’s executive order, both personally and within their families.
Trump’s executive order also affected the Pakistani grandparents of Aamna Asif, the president of the Muslim Student Union. Asif and her family, all of whom are American citizens, have been trying to help Asif’s grandparents obtain American citizenship as Asif said that they’re getting older and their health is deteriorating. But Asif fears Trump’s executive order will create complications for all Muslims trying to enter the United States, though Pakistan was not one of the banned countries.
“It’s important to recognize that this ban is specifically targeting Muslims, and it’s affecting a lot of people,” Asif said.
According to the USC Office of International Services, more than 200 students originate from countries impacted by the executive order: Iran, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Sudan and Somalia. While the order has not stranded any students abroad, Provost Michael Quick issued a statement urging affected individuals to stay in the country to avoid complications upon trying to return.
But Asif said Trump’s executive order is not the only thing harming the Muslim community. Asif believes that, like many other news events that involve Muslims, Trump’s executive order has led to a problematic and inaccurate media representation of Muslims, as it focuses on negative events without highlighting the positive impact Muslims have in their respective communities.
“It’s really hurtful because a lot of us were born here, grew up here,” Asif said. “This is our country — the county that we love.”
Asif’s criticism of Muslim representation in the media extends to student journalists as well. She said the extensive media coverage Muslim students receive is contradicted by a lack of action from the student journalists who interview them.
“I’ve been getting so many emails and messages from Annenberg students now, when the Muslim community is facing such hardship, rather than when we’re doing so many amazing things,” Asif said. “It’s important to be aware of our community in these times as well, but if these students were allies, they’d be there year-round, in the good times and bad.”
For Afsara Haque, MSU’s public relations coordinator, the constant media coverage surrounding Muslims has become a source of personal pressure, as she found herself having to speak for a diverse group of people.
“I became an ambassador for my faith when I actually didn’t want to be part of that role,” Haque said. “Having Muslims in the media all the time puts a spotlight on Muslims in general, especially when you are that one Muslim person that people know.”
Asif stressed cultural and religious sensitivity when interviewing Muslim students and religious figures. She said she wants to see genuine interest in the support and success of the Muslim community, regardless of what happens in the news.
“I want to see that if you’re trying to display our narrative, you’re trying to be our ally,” Asif said. “You’re standing up for our rights, whether it’s at a rally or event, not just finishing a school project.”
While Asif sees Trump’s executive action as “concerning and terrible,” exposure to Islamophobic rhetoric or policies is not new to her.
“This isn’t a new thing, ever since 9/11,” Asif said. “But it’s a wake up call, and we hope it brings out the best of other people who may not have stood up for these groups before.”