Being A Muslim MBA At Trump’s Alma Mater

Tech CEOS met with the president-elect in December. This month the top companies of Silicon Valley joined many of the top business schools in opposing Trump’s ban on travel to and from seven majority-Muslim countries

THE ILLUSION OF SAFETY

Trump’s immigration ban doesn’t affect Eshete directly. But that itself highlights a problem for many in B-school. Though they themselves are unaffected, “the topic does hit close to me. As a child of immigrants and having grown up with many close Muslim friends who also migrated here, it’s hard to imagine where we would be or what life would be like had the U.S. always upheld such discriminatory and repressive immigration policies,” Eshete says.

“Frankly, I think the directives are wrong and dangerous. An executive order of this nature only further promotes discriminatory and xenophobic behaviors and sentiments. The fact that the travel ban list does not include certain countries that are home to many terrorists who have actually attacked the U.S. causes me to believe that this is Trump using defenseless, powerless Muslim countries to appease his voter base and create the mere illusion of keeping America safe.

“What I find dangerous is that these directives could create greater animosity both domestically and internationally — perhaps even where none previously existed — only to further exacerbate the very problem they claim to be solving. That said, I’m very proud of the mobilization and compassion of Americans across the country in opposition to the directives. That’s the silver lining amidst this otherwise gloomy period in American history.”

‘THE THOUGHT OF LEAVING SCHOOL TO ONLY STRUGGLE FOR A GREEN CARD IS DEPRESSING’

Concern over Trump’s immigration ban extends beyond those currently in U.S. business schools to those considering attending one. Among them, one woman, an African who has lived in the U.S. on various work visas for about a decade, communicated to P&Q about her deliberations over seeking an MBA in the U.S. or Canada — “and then,” she says, “Trump was elected.”

“As someone who experienced both Bush years and Obama years, I’m still shocked,” says Ramla (not her real name), speaking to Poets&Quants by email and requesting anonymity because she does not want to limit her school or career options by being a known critic of the president. “As someone who was never able to attain that golden green card, I decided to apply to business school to change careers and to update my skill set so it can match the lofty dreams I have of bettering conditions in my home country. U.S. MBA programs are hands-down the best in the world, and more prestigious. The schools I visited were impressive and got me very excited about the journey I’m about to embark on. But the thought of leaving school to again struggle for a green card and possibly not succeed is depressing to me. So I was already debating whether to look at Canada. Then Trump was elected.  And his behavior ever since makes me wonder if I can live through years of gaslighting and moral bankruptcy from the White House.”

So Canadian schools were looking to be Ramla’s best option, especially as Canada could afford her quick permanent residency, political stability, and, as she puts it, “liberal values.” There’s just one problem: “The schools are just not as impressive if I prioritize brand and quality of education. The University of Toronto is highly ranked, but then a Rotman admissions officer admitted on P&Q some years ago to discriminating against candidates over 30.

“I can think of 10 American schools with brands recognized abroad that I could get into and would really enjoy the experience — and I’m not even considering Stanford, Harvard, and Wharton,” says Ramla, who plans to take the GMAT in April and apply to a two-year MBA program by the end of 2017, focusing on product management or operations management. “The Canadian schools” — she mentions both Rotman and Schulich School of Business at York University, also in Toronto — “are just not as exciting, and to my knowledge don’t even have good ties to African markets.”

INTERNSHIPS AND POST-MBA VISA RULES

Then there’s Europe. Ramla has researched London Business School, Oxford Said, INSEAD, HEC Paris, and Mannheim, among others, and likes that some are more affordable than the U.S. — and that they “offer the chance to live in Europe.” However, many lack a summer internship requirement, she says, and for career changers like herself an internship is important.

“Also, I keep coming back to post-MBA visa rules,” Ramla says. “When you need company sponsorship in order to work, the reality is that your options shrink and you end up taking jobs that may not be exactly what you want, not because your dream jobs aren’t available but because those companies won’t sponsor H1-Bs or green cards.”

Lately, she says, her sights have been set on MIT Sloan and Berkeley Haas, both of which she has visited.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT? ‘WHO KNOWS’ 

But hanging over everything is Donald Trump and his controversial immigration ban. Trump’s election “feels very much like an endorsement by many Americans of bigotry and amorality in public leadership,” Ramla says. “While he lost the popular vote — and for that we can be grateful — we cannot ignore that the votes were closer than initially expected. I question whether the U.S. is the country I thought it was. I’m also concerned about the psychological effects on the citizenry and non-citizens like myself of living under his kind of presidency. You cannot open a newspaper or log on to the NY Times or Wall Street Journal without reading about another outrageous thing the president has said or done, or some other boundary he has crossed.

“Living in the U.S. already, I am sensitive to the resentment, anger, and despair of people around me who are alarmed at what is going on, and I have no idea whether to continue a decade-long habit of reading the news and engaging on current events or change my personal ethic because I may be plugging into something toxic.”

When it comes to legal immigration and the admission of skilled professionals and students like herself, Ramla says, it is not clear whether Trump will improve pathways or find ways to disrupt pathways to discourage others from coming to America — much as the UK has done. “The worst Clinton might have done is leave the H1B and green card systems alone,” Ramla says. “I personally don’t think Trump cares about legal immigration, but the complaints by some of his supporters about H1Bs taking American jobs could maybe motivate him to ‘do something about it’ in order to demonstrate a quick win. Who knows?”

(Editor’s Feb. 9 note: This story has been updated to reflect the latest legal developments regarding Trump’s executive order.)

DON’T MISS IN AGE OF TRUMP, B-SCHOOLS BRACE FOR UPHEAVAL and THE TRUMP SHOCK IN THE MBA BUBBLE

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