Chancellor Douglas A. Girod

Speech: Chancellor delivers welcome remarks at Symposium on Race and Immigration

Friday, April 8, 2016

Symposium on Race and Immigration
Malott Room, Sixth Floor, Kansas Union
8:30 a.m., Friday, April 8, 2016

Thank you all for being here this morning. And welcome to those visiting our campus!

KU is proud to host this conversation on the intersection of race and immigration — two of the most important and divisive issues the world faces. Our university appreciates this opportunity to showcase our commitment to being a leader in tackling key issues of our time.

Diversity of all kinds has greatly enriched and strengthened this country — and higher educational institutions, in particular. KU attracts students, faculty, and staff from all racial groups. And this campus has served as the port-of-entry for thousands of foreign-born students, who have since decided to make the United States their home. 

But despite our diversity, we, like many universities, still struggle to ensure that all of our students feel welcome on campus. This is a challenge we’ve addressed on our campus this year with renewed vigor, but I think it’s clear we still have a ways to go.

The relationship between race or ethnicity and immigration is, by no means, a recent issue for the United States, nor is its significance limited to this country. The United States was founded by immigrants, through a bloody process of land acquisition and forced migration of native peoples. And until the Civil War, much of our economy was based on the enslavement of Africans, brought here as result of forced migration. 

Unfortunately, these early experiences of Native Americans and African Americans were not the only instances in which race, immigration and citizenship were linked here. Our nation has linked immigration and citizenship to race and ethnicity throughout our history.

The Homestead Act of 1862 encouraged the settlement of the Great Plains and accelerated the disruption of indigenous nations. The Act excluded non-whites from these settlement privileges until subsequent legislation abolished racial requirements for citizenship.

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was the first law to prevent a specific ethnic group from immigrating to the United States until its repeal in 1943.

The Immigration Act of 1924 restricted the percentage of new immigrants by country, linking each to the proportion of U.S. population from that country prior to 1880. This law, in effect, discriminated against those of Eastern and Southern European, African, Arab and Asian descent in favor of Northern Europeans.

Fortunately for me, and many of you, our nation has made significant progress in the past 50 years at reducing racial bias in immigration. But it is important not to forget this history. And it is important not to be complacent.              

From a global perspective, we read daily about mass migrations occurring all over the world. Immigration on a large scale creates social and economic stress in the host country. These are legitimate concerns.

But objections to immigrants are often colored with racial prejudice and discrimination that leads to marginalization, contributing to the very woes that immigration opponents fear.

Indeed, the conflation of race and immigration is so pervasive that it is reasonable to ask if this is not the common state. That is, prejudice seems to be the typical reaction to large numbers of immigrants who are identifiably different from the majority population.

That’s why this conference is so important — because this issue is age-old … it is current … and it is pervasive.

People around the world seek to migrate to find safety and a better life for themselves and their families. Your work can help us understand their experience and that of the communities that receive them.

Communities in Kansas, across the nation, and across the world grapple with changing demographics and integrating new immigrants into society and civic life. We know this first-hand in Kansas, most notably in college towns like Lawrence, in the Kansas City metro area, and in agriculture-based communities throughout the state.

The challenges are great, which is why I am so appreciative you all are here this week to have critical discussions.

I offer you my support and encouragement in your efforts.

You are doing noble work.

Thank you.

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Chancellor's Vision

The mission of the University of Kansas is to lift students and society by educating leaders, building healthy communities, and making discoveries that change the world.

We will do that by raising the expectations we have for ourselves, the aspirations we have for our state, and the hopes we have for our world.