A letter to Vassar College:
I spent 12 months in Afghanistan. As part of my mission, I was one of a few soldiers in my unit that was able to travel on an almost daily basis and see the beauty of the country. I was part of a highly trained team whose job it was to protect the Regional Command North Commander, Major General Bullard, and his team of aides, translators and sometimes a few State Department (CIA) representatives. It was Bullard’s job to travel to different provinces and cities, from Kabul to Mazar-i-Sharif, and meet with local Afghan leaders as well as war lords and Provincial Governors (sometimes the same people) to try and help create a vibrant democracy that would be sustainable for the Afghan people and their future.
The images of the drawdown and the desperation that accompanied that final chapter of the war in Afghanistan devastated Americans, especially veterans.
Just as much as the first responders, victims and survivors became an inspiration to all of us and united the American people in the days and weeks after Sept. 11, we need to come together to do whatever it takes to save and support our Afghan allies, who served side by side with us, sacrificed their lives, family members, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers. We as a country and community need to unite once more.
There has been a tremendous response across the country from individuals who want to help desperate refugees holding Special Immigrant Visas, a visa applicable to individuals who have worked as translators, interpreters or other professionals on behalf of the United States government in Afghanistan or Iraq (National Immigration Forum, 2021). Veterans of the war have had a central role in working with contacts on the ground to try and save as many people as possible. However, the general consensus of the country seems to be that we should focus on American citizens or green card holders, and save foremost the people who assisted the U.S. military. But why? Why shouldn’t there be an active humanitarian effort focused on assisting every person in Afghanistan who is in grave danger?
If we fail to deliver on the promises our country made to the Afghan people, we fail as a democratic and free society. Words are cheap. Our actions need to be more than a press release from the Oval Office promising protection while addressing how a 20-year war that cost so much American life and treasure could come to such an ignominious end.
Similarly, our actions on campus need to exceed outrage and despair. I appeal to the campus community that we join together to explore how we can be more engaged as responsible citizens. This is not the first time that Vassar Posse Veterans and traditional Vassar students have worked together on campus to address issues of forced displacement. After a teach-in that brought faculty and nearly 80 students together, Vassar Refugee Solidarity (VRS) and the Consortium on Forced Migration, Displacement, and Education were born. While Trump’s Muslim ban at the time halted the anticipated resettlement of refugee families in the Hudson Valley, VRS and the Consortium continued their work on behalf of displaced scholars and students.
The question for us as a community in the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world shouldn’t be, “What can we do?” but rather, “Why aren’t we doing more?” I want to ask the leadership of Vassar College, as well as the trustees, faculty and students, this question: If we want to be an institution that educates the future leaders of the world, then shouldn’t we show our community (and the world) that we live by the values on which this institution was founded? Among many, leadership is what we need the most in this moment in history. I ask you (Vassar leadership) to be the leader(s) that you have proven to be, time after time, crisis after crisis. The leadership you’ve shown during the pandemic is an incredible testament to what you can achieve by leading and acting as an example for institutions all over the country. You must take this opportunity and show how your action can transform the lives of these Afghan refugees. A good start would be a public statement expressing support and the willingness to give all relevant and necessary resources that VRS needs to get to work in helping to give our new neighbors and future neighbors the same courtesy they gave me when I was there. But we need these actions, and we need them now.
Other colleges and universities have already put a lot of time, money and effort into helping the refugees in this crisis. In fact, one of our peer institutions, Bard College, is offering scholarships and other educational benefits to potential college students. Bard has started an “Afghan Student Fund,” which according to their website, “provides living, legal and other necessary support to Afghan students who come to Bard. The College has committed to providing a full package to each student, including tuition (which is being waived), room & board, books, and a stipend” (Bard Afghan Student Fund).
I’ve written to many of my advisors and professors about how amazing my experience at Vassar College has been. I’m truly blessed and thankful to have been given this opportunity to learn from a historic and elite school like Vassar. Therefore, I believe if we take a proactive leadership role in the effort to help Afghanistan and its people, other institutions will follow, and we will be able to save lives and help families start new lives in what I still believe is the greatest country in the world.
Let’s let the world see our character, our integrity and fulfillment of our promises. Let’s “Shine a Light” on our compassion for all people, in our continued mission to “form a more perfect union… with liberty and justice for all.”