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College responds to Trump's order with refugee scholarship

  • Philip Marcelo

    Associated Press

Boston, United States | Tue, February 7, 2017 | 02:30 pm
College responds to Trump's order with refugee scholarship In this Jan. 14, 2016 file photo, runners make their way along a sidewalk on the campus of Wheaton College in Norton, Mass. The college has created a refugee scholarship in response to President Donald Trump's January 2017 order on immigration and refugees and is calling on other colleges to do the same. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

A liberal arts college in Massachusetts has created a refugee scholarship in response to President Donald Trump's order on immigration and refugees and is calling on other colleges to do the same.

Wheaton College in Norton announced the offer after the Republican billionaire issued his Jan. 27 executive order, suspending America's refugee program and halting immigration to the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries. On Saturday, the U.S. government suspended enforcement of the ban a day after a federal judge in Washington state temporarily blocked it.

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College President Dennis Hanno said the scholarship is meant to demonstrate that Wheaton embraces its foreign-born community, even as the White House moves in the opposite direction.

"We value the different perspectives people from all around the world bring to Wheaton," he said, noting that about 18 percent of the college's 1,650 students hail from more than 70 different foreign nations. "It's about wanting to take immediate action to preserve that environment we've created here."

Hanno stressed the college has no intention of violating any federal mandates.

Wheaton's Refugee Scholarship is open to any refugee student fleeing conflict, but applicants from the seven countries specifically targeted by Trump's order — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — would be given special preference.

"We're not trying to do anything illegal," Hanno said. "It's really about trying to send a message to students who would normally be interested in Wheaton College that we're still interested in them, and hope they're still interested in us."

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education declined to comment Friday.

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Reaction on Wheaton's social media accounts from alumni and parents has been generally supportive. But some Facebook and Twitter users have questioned why the college has chosen to prioritize foreigners over U.S. citizens.

Hanno argued that the scholarship, which is for a single student, is over and above the $41 million in total student aid Wheaton provides annually, of which more than 90 percent goes to American students.

Hanno said the response from applicants has been strong, but that no other college has so far stepped up to offer a similar scholarship, as Hanno urged others to do when he announced the initiative.

Nationwide, there are already a number of scholarships and fellowships geared to refugees and immigrants, but Wheaton's appears to be the first created in direct response to Trump's order, said Lynn Pasquerella, president of the nearly 1,400-member Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Many American colleges and universities, she added, have issued statements expressing concern about the impact on their campus communities, as well as on the ability to recruit the best talent.