Graduation Flag “Passport Policy” Targets Diasporic and Arab Students

Zeena Fuleihan

As a dual citizen of the United States and Lebanon, Macalester counts me in its internationalism statistics. On the “About Macalester” webpage, Macalester boasts that 25% of students are citizens of another country and 88 countries are represented. I am a part of those numbers. However, when it comes to deciding whether or not to fly the Lebanese flag at my graduation this May, I only count as a representative of Lebanon if I can show a passport.

A few weeks ago, I was contacted because the college has me on record as a dual citizen of Lebanon to ask if I could show my passport in order to have my flag flown at commencement. This record of my dual citizenship is enough to include me in advertising statistics but not to fly my flag at commencement. As the only graduating Lebanese student, it is up to me to have that flag present. However, I never renewed my Lebanese passport because I always use my US one to travel. I was told that my valid Lebanese ID would not be sufficient evidence to prove my citizenship and have my flag flown, and neither would my word as someone with two Lebanese parents who immigrated to the United States during the Lebanese Civil War, so my parents had to find my expired baby passport to get my flag flown.

A passport is one of the most privileged, bureaucratic documents in existence. Why is it required in order to simply fly the flag of a student’s nationality at their graduation ceremony? What about students without documentation, students who don’t have citizenship in their country of origin, or those who don’t identify with the country they do have citizenship in? After strenuous research through the Macalester archives, I could not find any trace of reasoning behind the policy.

It is possible that the administration is concerned that flags at commencement become complicated when dealing with students who identify with territories not recognized as nation states, but in requiring proof of citizenship through passports, the administration erases and denies the legitimacy of these identities. At the same time that I got the email, I discovered that many of my other diasporic friends who are the only representatives of their countries in the graduating class were also phoning home to have their parents dig up their old baby passports so that they can be represented at commencement.

As a college that prides itself on fostering global citizenship, I find this policy appalling. It blatantly singles out students who live in the diaspora. This seems contrary to our ideal of raising students as citizens of the globe rather than only one country. “Citizenship” itself is a highly contentious topic — who is allowed to be a citizen of which country, and why is it suddenly so important to prove citizenship with such a highly privileged document as a passport so that the students of the graduating class of 2018 can see their nationalities represented at their commencement? In the eyes of Macalester, unless I have a passport to prove otherwise, I am not Lebanese on my graduation day, only American, even though there is not a drop of American blood in my body.

Additionally, I find this policy weighs disproportionally on Arab students. Macalester rarely accepts more than one student from any given Arab country in each class. Using Arab nationality in its statistics is a way of tokenizing our identity to attract prospective students who are interested in a diverse college experience, but the reality is that Macalester does not actually take steps to celebrate and support its Arab students. I know for a fact that many of my Arab peers in the classes below me will have to fight to have their flags recognized at their graduation ceremonies because Arab citizens’ passports do not always align with their country of nationality, and they are already preparing to deal with this injustice.

Although my nationality is Lebanese, I also identify as Palestinian. Many of my grandparents grew up in Palestine but were forced to leave around 1948 at the time of the creation of Israel. I do not have any documentation of my Palestinian identity because of the forceful displacement of Palestinians by Israel. I cannot help but question what this “passport policy” means in relation to Palestine: does it reinforce this violence on behalf of Israel? Often, Palestinians have passports issued to them by Jordan, and many, such as myself, do not have any way to officially prove our nationality.

When it comes to nationalities that other countries violently attempt to erase, such as Palestinian, we cannot ignore diaspora and we must change the way we recognize identity beyond official documentation. I had hoped that Macalester, due to its values of global citizenship and internationalism, would understand this pressing need. It is with a heavy heart that I realize the truth: by requiring highly bureaucratic documentation to prove citizenship in order to fly a student’s flag at commencement, this “passport policy” mirrors Israeli efforts to diminish and dislocate Palestinian strength.

When advertising itself to prospective students and donors, Macalester does not hesitate to recognize and capitalize on my identity as Arab. But when it is time to celebrate that heritage on graduation day, Macalester not only enforces its preference for privilege, but also reveals a lack of international moral decency. I hope the college recognizes the double standard with which it treats its diasporic and Arab students and corrects the inhumanity in this passport policy.