When Duke alums learned their former classmate Stephen Miller helped design President Donald Trump’s executive order halting immigration, many were outraged.
Miller, Trinity ‘07 and Trump’s senior advisor, is widely reported to be one of the key players behind an executive order that blocks immigration from seven predominantly-Muslim countries and indefinitely bans Syrian refugees. In response, Duke alums have drafted an open letter to Miller, expressing their disappointment in both Miller’s participation in creating the immigration ban and his role in the Trump administration in general.
“I’m deeply troubled by having a peer at Duke be one of the principal architects of an executive order that goes against what Duke education represents,” said Carly Knight, Trinity ‘07 and one of the creators of the letter.
Knight—who is currently a graduate student at Harvard University—and Corey Sobel, Trinity ‘07 and a writer in New York City, launched the letter Saturday afternoon, and it currently has more than 700 signatures.
“We find it impossible to see in your words and actions any glimmer of the University values we so cherish, nor the slightest suggestion that you spent four of your most formative years at the same dynamic, diverse institution of higher education we did,” the letter reads.
That notion was shared by one of the letter's signees, Steven Davidson, Trinity '15. Pushing back on some conservative rhetoric about universities, Davidson said, "experiencing four years at Duke is not some liberal brainwashing experience," but is instead a place to expose students to a diversity of experiences and lifestyles.
"That's the fundamental rock of a college experience, and I honestly wonder what he spent his four years at Duke doing," Davidson said. "Did he interact with these people?"
Knight noted that she had been speaking with other Duke alums from her year about Miller when she came across a Facebook post from Sobel expressing similar sentiments. She reached out to him, and they decided to create the open letter.
Much of the letter’s circulation has been through word of mouth, she explained, adding that she has been encouraging alums to share it on their personal Facebook and Twitter accounts. Next week, she plans to reach out to Duke alumni associations for their help.
There is no formal way for Knight and Sobel to verify that the signatories are Duke alums, but they are requiring alums to submit their email addresses. Alums can also send questions or additional thoughts to email@example.com.
The two said they hope the letter received enough attention that it would be difficult for Miller to miss, although they are unsure whether it will impact his views directly.
“I think that his actions indicate a close-mindedness to criticism and a resistance to any worldview that doesn’t align very much with his,” Sobel said.
Davidson acknowledged that the letter was not going to lead Miller to a "change of heart," but argued that at the very least, it clearly states the values of the Duke community. Sobel noted that several Harvard alums organized a similar letter aimed at Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and another one of his senior advisors.
“The idea that this letter is going to [make] him have a come-to-Jesus moment is naive," Sobel said. "I think the real purpose is for us, as representatives such as we are of the institution, to say both 'we are publicly both owning up to our connection to you and disavowing what you stand for, especially your connection to a University that we think stands for very different things.'”
Lucas Schaefer, Trinity’ 04, felt compelled to act as well. Along with several friends from the Class of 2004, he helped launch a CrowdRise fundraising campaign in support of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The two projects started independently, but both groups say they are supporting each other.
“Stephen will no doubt argue that the President’s executive order is not actually a 'ban,' nor does it target Muslims, but we see his tactics for what they are—a not-very-subtle attempt to promote the same tired, toxic brand of bigotry he has been associated with since his time at Duke,” a post on the page reads.
Schaefer said that he thought it was important to stand up to Miller’s role in crafting Trump’s immigration order and create a concrete way for alumni to respond. As of Sunday afternoon, the campaign had fundraised $3,200, and Schaeffer said he plans to begin publicizing it more Monday.
“One of the things we learned at Duke and have taken away from our friendship is that we’re really all in this together, and that our commitment to those core democratic values of civility and openness and pluralism really stem from our commitment to one another because we have all become adults together,” Schaefer said.
While a student, Schaefer and several friends collaborated on the “gay? fine by me” campaign, launched after Duke's campus was listed as one of the most homophobic in the nation.
Both initiatives allow alumni to join anonymously. Sobel attributed this to worries of potential reprisals against signatories who may work in sensitive fields.
Knight noted that her primary goal for the letter is to demonstrate that Miller’s actions and beliefs are not representative of Duke alums as a whole.
The letter notes that the Class of 2007—which is approaching its 10-year reunion—does not see “the values of intellectual honesty, tolerance, diversity and respect” that Duke promotes in Miller's actions.
Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, said the University has no comment on the letter.