Dear President Trump,
You say you want to build a “big beautiful wall” to separate you from your southern neighbors, starting with Mexico. You say it will help you put Americans first and “make the country great again.” But those of us who have lived behind walls know better. I hope you’ll heed my warning.
I grew up in Germany, and I was close enough to the Berlin Wall that it took less than a mile to reach it. The German Democratic Republic (GDR), in effect, built the infamous barrier around us. The intention was to keep those in East Germany from streaming into the free world. Although I was supposed to be among the liberated in the West, we all ended up in a prison of sorts.
Etched in my mind are memories of the towering wall, barbed wire, minefield, and secondary wall all intended to trap those inside and keep us out. GDR police would take cars entirely apart just to make sure no one was hiding copies of Western publications or literature, such as Der Spiegel, which would criticize its government. Whenever my friends and I would be rowing in the lake through which part of the border passed, the GDR water police would make waves large enough to keep us from navigating. Always, there was an unspeakable tension and palpable division.
BUILDING WALL MEANS SUFFERING ON ALL SIDES AND WITNESSING THE DEATH OF DREAMS
Building walls means suffering on all sides, separating families, and witnessing the death of dreams on a regular basis. Worst of all, once the wall was built, its creators had to utilize brute force to protect it. Oh so many died trying to pass that wall in my hometown. Indeed, barriers such as this are the final and ultimate statement you can make about exclusion.
One other memory, however, inspires hope. I was there on Nov. 9, 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down. My family, friends, and I count it as the most important day of our lives. There was sheer joy as we literally used our own hands to tear down that slab of concrete, one of the clearest symbols of the Cold War and our own personal jail. In that moment, we understood what freedom really meant – and we never want to forget it.
Now, I have chosen to remain a “wall pecker,” the name given to those who physically took down pieces of the Berlin Wall. As the executive director of CEMS, a global alliance of academic and corporate institutions dedicated to educating and preparing future generations of international business leaders, I recognize the power of diversity. From our inception in 1988, we have aimed for education to build a bridge even between the greatest of divides.
A MASTER’S PROGRAM THAT CONNECTS PEOPLE IN MANY WAYS
The joint CEMS Master’s in International Management is our main vehicle for promoting an education that reaches the multilingual, multicultural, and interconnected business world. Many business schools seek excellence in rankings and research. Few say they want to make the world a better place, but we do.
We begin this lofty task by creating strong personal bonds among the students in our program. They see the world both literally, by going abroad for study and internships, and figuratively, by learning about different cultures and traditions from one another. Even in our highly selective admissions process, we seek out those who are open to all sorts of people, share our values, and are hungry to learn about how to responsibly conduct business in the global marketplace.
Our students often travel abroad, which gives them a chance to observe various cultures firsthand. But more so, it helps them experience what it’s like to be a minority, an outsider in a foreign land. This interactive education gives them a broader perspective that they take with them wherever they go.
BUILDING A WALL HELPS A REGIME CREATE A SYMBOL
If a wall were to be erected on the U.S./Mexico border as suggested, the world and our students would suffer. They have friends everywhere, and their contacts, who might hold the “wrong” passport, may be blocked from entering their world. Regulations of this sort in any country, in fact, impact their personal and professional lives.
In promoting our Vision 2025, a goal to better our program in the long term, we are seeking to be a model for the global community. CEMS wants to continue to promote values of openness, sustainability, and inclusiveness. That’s right, we want to make being a wall pecker our mission. We never again want to see a wall like the one with which my people lived for decades.
Now, I must sound the alarm. Building a wall helps a regime create a symbol of division. It makes it easier for people in the liberal world to unite against you. The wall, essentially, makes your enemies stronger. Beware.
Finally, you might mistakenly think that you are doing well for international business. But our students are applying just to make a statement to shout down the construction of any walls that divide civilized people. A generation of young people who want to do business while being ethically bound is rising up. Eventually, the youth will tear down that wall no matter how big or wide you make it.
A perpetual wall pecker
Author Roland Siegers is the executive director CEMS, a global alliance of academic and corporate institutions, including 30 top global business schools, dedicated to educating and preparing future generations of international business leaders.