‘Campus Conversation’ highlights civil liberties

Susan Herman

Susan Herman, president of the American Civil Liberties Union, speaks in Student Center East March 7. (Photo: Vibhu S. Rangavasan)

“Let America be America Again,” Susan Herman, president of the American Civil Liberties Union, said as she closed her March 7 talk in Student Center East by reading excerpts from a 1935 Langston Hughes poem.

“A poem I’ve only recently discovered,” the Brooklyn Law School professor said, but one that’s relevant at a time when “Make America Great Again” is widely circulated.

Herman focused her talk on civil liberties and the Trump administration, this month’s topic in the yearlong Campus Conversation series, sponsored by the Office of the Provost. An open forum on the same topic follows from noon to 1 p.m. Thursday in 302 Student Center East.

“One benefit of [Campus Conversations] is being exposed to the context of current issues,” said Ayesha Patel, an education major who attended the lecture. “It helps people open their minds.”

Herman did that by introducing the audience to an individual affected by the Muslim ban: Hameed Darweesh. The Iraqi translator risked his life for American troops and spent two years in the vetting process before being granted a special visa. On Jan. 27, he was detained at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York as he entered the country. After 19 hours, he was released, thanks to members of the American Civil Liberties Union and other partners who worked to file a habeas corpus petition on his behalf.

“One of the things that I think is pretty amazing of what’s happening in the country now…is that people are standing up for each other,” Herman said, pointing to other collaborations between social justice groups.

Herman explored the ACLU’s history, making connections with other cases that have defended and preserved the rights and liberties of people across the nation. One involved years of litigation to shut down Joe Arpaio, a former Arizona sheriff whose enforcement of immigration law, which involved racially profiling Latinos, was deemed unlawful and discriminatory.

Herman said she’s “very much afraid that Sheriff Joe’s idea of, ‘let’s suspect everybody, guilt by association,’” is gaining popularity, but she offered a solution — one that can be employed by anyone, anywhere.

“I think the best antidote to that is unity — to look across religious, ethnic, racial lines and to really just all come together,” she said.

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