By RICKY LINDSAY, Editor-in-Chief
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson visited the University of Michigan-Dearborn Wednesday to speak to students, faculty and officials about matters of national security.
Johnson, who was the “designated survivor” for Jan. 12’s State of the Union, touched on several topics during his presentation that made DHS more transparent, including explaining what it is and how it has changed in recent years, from its beginnings after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to the now terrorist-inspired attacks.
He also spoke about issues pertaining to the Muslim community. Over 40 percent of Dearborn’s population is Muslim, and UM-Dearborn boasts a diverse student body.
“Now more than ever… it is critical that we build bridges to Muslim communities around this country, and that the answer cannot be to vilify Muslim Americans in this country,” Johnson said. “The reality is that one in four people on this planet are of the Islamic faith — the overwhelming majority. This is what America at large needs to hear.”
Chancellor Daniel Little said DHS was interested in visiting UM-Dearborn “because of the diversity and the inclusiveness of our campus.”
“The fact that our many religious and racial communities are working well together, that is a model for the country,” Little said.
Suehaila Amen, the international recruiter in UM-Dearborn’s Office of International Affairs, was involved in bringing Johnson to the university. Those conversations began in November and a date was chosen for January.
“This has been a longstanding conversation between community leadership (and) congressional officials from the area who were pushing for him to come to metropolitan Detroit and address some of the issues that we’ve been dealing with over the years,” Amen said. “It finally came to fruition and we’re happy to have him here.”
According to Little, Johnson was “very interested in talking to students.” Johnson said he enjoys talking to college students about DHS’s mission “because (he) also (likes) to talk about the value and the glory of public service.” He met with 20 student leaders prior to speaking to the audience in 1500 Social Science Building.
“Designing the event, the secretary was very interested in talking with students. And of course, there are lots of adults in this room and this community who would like to have a serious conversation with the secretary,” Little said. “So, kind of keeping those priorities straight so that he really did get some time… that was his goal and we worked as hard as we could to keep it so it was a small group and it was dominated by students.”
Student Government President Bradley Pischea was one of 20 students who participated in the meeting.
“We were able to have a pretty candid conversation with him. It was almost like talking to a professor,” Pischea said. “We just had that back and forth dialogue where he was teaching us, he was asking us things… He kind of started off telling us a bit about ourselves — getting us a bit more conformable in the room — but people were asking anything between the protection of civil liberties to like TSA screenings… he gave us a very frank and candid conversation.”
The student-dominated event had its critics, however. A member of the audience criticized Johnson for not meeting with Muslim and Arab-American leaders during his visit to Dearborn.
Johnson countered, saying “I cannot expect this to be my last visit to Dearborn.
“My personal presence here today is not the beginning or the end of my department’s relationship with this community,” Johnson said. “We want to establish a more continual presence in this community and a whole lot of other communities. I come here to highlight the mission… but it doesn’t begin or end with me.”
Government agencies policed the event along with Campus Safety and the Dearborn Police Department, which brought its share of challenges.
“The Secret Service is responsible for the safety of the secretary. Campus safety is responsible for coordinating well with Secret Service. There were other police agencies involved as well,” Little said. “That kind of jurisdictional collaboration, it’s not conflictual, it’s just a lot of communication to do.”
University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel, United States Representatives John Conyers Jr. and Debbie Dingell, Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly and Dearborn Chief of Police Ron Haddad were amongst the officials in attendance.
“Our community is one of the most diverse and inclusive in the country, and we all have a responsibility to pull together to create safer, more secure neighborhoods for our families, not just now, but into the future,” Dingell said in a release. “Today’s visit was an important reminder that we are all Americans and we cannot allow fear to divide us.”