For more than a year, this blog was dedicated to chronicling my journey as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Germany. It has since turned into a space for me to write overtly pretentious posts about my (sparse) travels and the occasional rant. Almost two years after my return to the United States, I find myself writing another post about Fulbright on this blog; however, it is one not of nostalgic memories, but of frustration and annoyance.
Last week, the Washington Post published an article entitled “That knock on a congressman’s door could be a Fulbright scholar with a tin cup.” The title comes off as a little dramatic, but it gets the message across: the Trump Administration wants to defund the Fulbright program by 47%. Scheiße. Fulbright alumni from all corners of the world quickly began fighting for continued support of the international program, myself included. I signed online petitions, I tweeted, and I wrote a letter to my Congressman, Steve Stivers:
Dear Congressman Stivers,
Hello, my name is Layla Banaie. On August 28, 2015, I opened my mailbox to find a letter from you. In this letter you had congratulated me on receiving a Fulbright fellowship to Germany and wished me all the best in the future. And for that, I say thank you. Not only was this a nice gesture, but it also meant a lot to me that one of my elected officials reached out and recognized the importance of such a “prestigious award,” as you referred to it.
Unfortunately, I am not writing to you today to tell you about the year I spent teaching English at the Peter-Apian-Oberschule in Leisnig, Germany. I am not writing to let you know of my own personal growth while abroad, nor am I writing to tell you how life changing of an experience my Fulbright year was. I am writing to you today to express my deep dissatisfaction with the Trump Administration’s proposed 47% cut to the Fulbright Program in the federal budget. Although there are many aspects of this budget that I am troubled by, namely the suggested cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, Education Department, Medicare, and Medicaid, I feel as if it is my duty as a Fulbright alumna to protect and advocate for the posterity of this program.
When Senator J. William Fulbright created this program in 1946, his mission was clear: “to bring a little more knowledge, a little more reason, and a little more compassion into world affairs and thereby increase the chance that nations will learn at last to live in peace and friendship.” Decades later, the words of the senator from Arkansas still resonate, especially in our current political climate. Not only would a near half decrease in funding be absolutely detrimental to the future of the Fulbright program, what kind of message would this convey to the 160+ countries with which we have established ties through this State Department program? To make such a devastating cut to this program, which fosters international exchange, understanding, communication, and friendship, is hubris and does not represent the America I told my German students about. It is not the America that Senator Fulbright or President Truman believed in, that is for certain.
Congressman Stivers, I ask you to stand for Fulbright. When you are on the floor of the House of Representatives, endlessly debating all the intricacies of the federal budget, please remember how crucial programs like Fulbright are for public and cultural diplomacy. Please oppose the Trump Administration’s uninformed, shortsighted proposed cut and support full funding of the Fulbright program.
Now, I am knowingly aware that Representative Stivers will most likely not read this letter. A Legislative Aide will skim it over, jot down a note, and pass along the topic of “opposes federal budget” to the congressman. Fine, I get it. I worked as a page for the Ohio Senate; I did the same thing on occasion. But I can’t help but feel like I needed to write this letter. I needed to express my frustration with my elected official (for whom I did not vote) and utilize my first amendment right to petition the government. Will it make a difference? I have no idea. But I am hopeful.
If you would like to support Fulbright, please follow this link to sign a petition.
If you really want to voice your support for the Fulbright program, find your representative here and either call or write a letter to them (the petition link also includes a template letter and talking points!).
*Please note that this post is entirely of my own opinion and is not in any way sponsored or influenced by the Fulbright program or the US Department of State.