Dr. Mzenga Wanyama is a tenured professor at Augsburg on sabbatical this academic year. Wanyama was born in Kenya, but he has lived in the Midwest for 26 years, during which time he received his PhD from the University of Minnesota. He and his wife have three children. A press release from March 7 tells us “[Wanyama] received a letter demanding his presence this Friday, March 9th to review his case and discuss ‘plans for removal’ from the United States.”
The visa which Wanyama used to enter the country from his native Kenya expired in 2005. Following the expiration, Wanyama applied for asylum citing an article he published speaking against the Kenyan government as qualifying him for asylum status. After an appeal Wanyama filed, his request was officially denied in 2012.
Since then, Wanyama has been forced to “comply with stringent guidelines including regular visits to the ICE headquarters in St. Paul every one to three months,” as we are told by the official press release. Additionally, the press release says, “[T]his most recent demand [for the March 9 meeting] comes outside of that schedule and signals a shift in priority of his case, putting him at risk for detention and deportation.”
Supporters began arriving not long before 10 a.m. to the Bishop Henry Whipple Building in St. Paul. People stood with Wanyama and his family before he and a small group entered the building. Waiting anxiously, the group of supporters grew in number and participated in chants of solidarity with Wanyama and against ICE and deportations.
Students who have faced threats of deportation in their own families came to support Wanyama. “This place [the Whipple Building], you can tell just by looking at it… it’s an office, where they make money by destroying people’s lives,” said student Shamsa Ahmed. “So that’s why we are here today, why so many of us are here today. We’ve never had Mzenga, but we’re here in solidarity.”
As he exited the building at the conclusion of the meeting, Wanyama addressed the crowd and the media. “I really think I have never done anything to deserve this,” Wanyama said on the outpouring of support.
Wanyama spoke with his usual positivity and modesty. “I have a smile on my face,” he said. And it showed. Wanyama was asked about what the experience has been like for him and his family. “It’s been a challenge,” he said, “but we’ve been through it for so long we don’t really let it influence our lives too much”
“They have been respectful; they have not mishandled us,” he said about the treatment of his family thus far. Even though detention seemed a possibility early in the week, the risk of this was low on the day of the meeting; Wanyama said he felt the overwhelming support at the site contributed to the low risk of detention. Wanyama continued to underscore that he and his attorney are continuing to look into the options as this process continues. However, “deportation is still an option,” the professor said. He has been asked to return next month for another meeting.
Overall, Wanyama wanted to convey a positive message; “I am so happy,” he said multiple times. He was happy for all of the support he has been receiving. “The future is in good hands,” he said about all of the students — many of which he has taught — present.
President Pribbenow made his official stance known Thursday March 8. Pribbenow’s statement expresses support for Dr. Wanyama; Pribbenow concludes saying, “We strongly stand behind him and believe he should be able to stay in the United States.” Pribbenow was not present on Friday.Head of the English department — colleague and friend of Wanyama’s — Dr. Cowgill also spoke about the news in the March 7 press release. “Professor Mzenga Wanyama is an invaluable tenured member of the Augsburg University community,” says Cowgill. “Augsburg’s students need Professor Wanyama.”
“Any action ICE may take to prevent Professor Wanyama from continuing his important work must be seen as a direct assault upon deeply held community values and interests,” he adds.We, the editors of The Echo, agree with Dr. Cowgill that Professor Mzenga Wanyama is a crucial member of the Augsburg community. Like Pres. Pribbenow, we stand behind our professor. Wanyama belongs both in this country and here at Augsburg.
Many students throughout the years have had their lives bettered by not only Dr. Wanyama’s knowledge and teaching but also his kindness, compassion and wisdom. The intense modesty of this man is inspiring. A great disservice to students will be done if future students do not have the opportunity to learn from him.
Cowgill is correct in saying that the Augsburg community needs Wanyama. At this time, Professor Wanyama needs Augsburg. The Echo calls the Augsburg community to take action in supporting Wanyama. Friday was not the end; it is only the beginning. We at The Echo will do our best to inform our readers as the story continues to unfold.