This is who will keep America great

Mar 11 2016 Published by under Academics, General Politics

The following is a a guest post by BrainProf

All the recent hateful rhetoric that is being thrown around during this election cycle is making me very anxious. All of a sudden everyone thinks that being openly racist is okay, a good thing, and that somehow this is going to make America great. This is not going to make America great. Let me tell you about a couple of people I know that WILL make America great, and represent why America IS great.

Over the last couple of years I've had the good fortune to work with two very talented undergraduate students in my lab. The first one, who is graduating this May with honors, has been working on a very technically challenging project trying to understand how the brain interprets and processes information. She has received numerous awards to perform her research over the summer and attend national meetings to present her work, and is basically working at the level of an advanced graduate student, and will be an author in a couple of peer-reviewed publications. She has done a ton of volunteer work in the local community and is a student leader in our local Latino student organization. After graduation she plans to finish her research project and apply to MD/PhD programs in order to go into a career where she can combine her passion for science with her interest in medicine. And here’s the catch. This student didn’t go to a fancy high school, or come from an academic family. In fact she’s the first in her family to attend college. And notably her parents are undocumented immigrants that brought her over from Mexico when she was one year old. Her parents, working landscaping and house cleaning jobs prioritized her education. She was finally able to come out of the shadows thanks to President Obama’s DREAM act, that allows individuals who’s parents brought them to the US as children to obtain temporary legal residence. This student’s family doesn’t sound like the “murderers and rapists” that some presidential candidates are describing and say we should keep out. And what’s even more concerning, is that ALL of the Republican candidates have agreed that they would not support this immigration measure, and if so people like my student would basically be out of luck.

Let me tell you about the other student. He graduated with honors last spring. In my lab he helped develop a model for neurodevelopmental disorders that will help us better understand the genetics of disorders such as autism and childhood epilepsy. He also presented his work in several scientific meetings, is already an author in one publication and has another on the way. He is currently studying neurological disorders in a different lab now and has already been accepted to medical school. During graduation he was given a University award for his leadership in community service. In his spare time he performed many, many hours of community service, running a clinic to help underserved populations navigate the medical system, helping them access health care, understanding medical diagnoses and learning to engage with their doctors. One time we were discussing his community service activities and he mentioned that he was moved to do them in a big part by his religion. This student is a devout Muslim, praying several times a day and attending religious services regularly. His parents are immigrants and along with his local immigrant community, they have always emphasized helping others less fortunate and always giving back not just to one’s own community but to others outside of it that may be in need. This doesn’t sound like the terrorists everyone seems to be afraid of. This doesn’t sound like someone I’d like to keep out of the country.

And these are only two examples that I happened to come across. Like them there are many others. This hateful rhetoric is poisoning our country, and will destroy the fabric of what makes it a great place to live.

43 responses so far

  • Boehninglab says:

    Great post, thank you

  • Philapodia says:

    Agreed, great post! Your students sound like what the American Dream is all about!

    Part of the problem is that the republican candidates running are basically narcissists who are more concerned about their own ambitions than what his actually good for the whole country. Additionally, if the people who are supporting these wackaloons actually got to know (and maybe like?) some of these people they are railing against, they might just have a harder time telling them that they should be deported because they may start seeing them as real people and not some mythical boogieman. But these candidates want their followers to hate those not like them because it gives them a common enemy, and of course only the candidate can win the fight against this scourge.

    The republican party over the last few decades has openly become the party of "I" rather than the party of "We", and selfishness and anger towards those who are different then they are have become the exception rather than the rule. It breaks my heart to see such anger and hatred from my fellow citizens, and pisses me off that these fukknut charlatans are stoking these in my fellow Americans emotions for their own cynical gain.

  • drugmonkey says:

    The republican party over the last few decades has openly become the party of "I" rather than the party of "We", and selfishness and anger towards those who are different then they are have become the exception rather than the rule. It breaks my heart to see such anger and hatred from my fellow citizens, and pisses me off that these fukknut charlatans are stoking these in my fellow Americans emotions for their own cynical gain.


  • Bagger Vance says:

    "My third student I want to tell you about is a magical fairy creature, who looks like a unicorn and smells like a hobbit. Ze has been first author on several of my papers and ghostwrote my last R01. Ze has a genderfluid identity and debilitating fibromyalgia. When ze was being taken to the hospital last week ze insisted I tell you to vote against anyone threatening Obamacare."

    Go on, pull the other one, it plays jingle bells.

  • Ola says:

    I want to believe so much that stories like this make a difference, but unfortunately it cuts both ways. For every inspiring uplifting immigrant story, there's another one involving bigots who bring their shit with them. That's the nature of the beast - the American dream is open to everyone, even right-wing fuck-nuts.

    Let me tell you about a person I know - an immigrant from eastern Europe who became a US citizen, but bought with them all of the bigotry from centuries of religious and racial infighting that one associates with that region, including a vocal disdain for persons with brown skin. This person is a dedicated and brilliant scientist, despite being devoutly Christian and a young-earth creationist. They'll be voting for the elephant party this November.

    It would also be foolish to forget that the increasing Latinization of the US over the past/next 50 years brings with it significantly greater religiosity, mainly in the form of Roman Catholicism with its attendant baggage regarding women's rights, abortion, sex ed, contraception, etc.

    If we value a progressive liberal society, we have to have immigration, but we need to think carefully about the values bought by those who immigrate, especially if those values will over the long term drive society in a more conservative anti-immigration direction. One only has to look at Rubio/Cruz, to see that it takes less than a generation for immigrants to forget their roots and call for pulling up the ladder.

  • MF says:

    I have to admit, I am always ambivalent on the subject of the DREAM act and similar initiatives. At the same time, I understand the desire to help those who did not have much choice in coming to the US (or those adult immigrants who are here illegally but are hard working and productive). And I am no fan of Trump.

    My husband and I brought our son here as a 2 year old when we came to study in graduate school. We remained on various types of temporary visas until he was 16, at which point our green card process was finally completed. In the meantime, I spent many sleepless nights worrying about what would happen if we are unable to maintain our legal status (whether due to losing a job and due to a clerical error). Indeed, at one point I had to spend about $400 to have our cases reopened when they were completely randomly closed by the USCIS due to their clerical error so that we could maintain our legal status. Having jumped through multiple hoops and spent quite a bit of money (even as poor graduate students) to maintain our legal status, I often wonder - why was our son less deserving of a "special status" than the children of undocumented immigrants.

    But then again, we were just lucky that we happened to be able to obtain a temporary legal status in the first place, and plenty of people would probably say there was no particularly good reason why it should be given to people like us and not to someone else. Just the luck of the draw for us, and I should not begrudge others the opportunity to make a life here, right?

  • namnezia says:

    @Ola There are nutters everywhere, many home grown as can be attested at any Trump or Cruz rally. The point I think is that you cannot marginalize an entire group based on a few bigots. To do so would be to marginalize a lot of talented individuals that will continue to make this country better. Sure Cruz and Rubio are sons of immigrants and total right wing nutters, but there are just as many other immigrants that are not. And just because they come from Latin America does not mean they are not progressive, there are plenty of progressive people there too. Have you been down there lately? Mexico amended their federal constitution to forbid discrimination based on sexual orientation, I don't see that happening in the US.

  • MF says:

    Ola, those are interesting observations. Many of my fellow immigrants (especially those who are not in academia) happen to be extremely conservative. I think it is the self-made mentality (I made it, and I did not need any help) that makes them much more sympathetic to the ideas espoused by the Republican party.

  • PaleoGould says:

    "For every inspiring uplifting immigrant story, there's another one involving bigots who bring their shit with them" which is the trouble with anecdotes yes. But we do not know which type of story is more prevalent. And how many immigrants are neither angels nor devils, just people doing no better or worse than the rest of us.
    "It would also be foolish to forget that the increasing Latinization of the US over the past/next 50 years brings with it significantly greater religiosity" American religiosity is already pretty high, and of a kind that is considerably less progressive than some brancjes of Latin American Catholicism.
    "especially if those values will over the long term drive society in a more conservative anti-immigration direction" It seems to me that it is hardly the values of immigrants doing that driving in the US

  • David says:

    As someone who unfortunately lives in a very red state and talks to fans of Trump, I agree with what some in the media have reported, namely that "make America great again" means make America white again, make it Protestant again, make it male dominated again.

    The weird thing is, I hear this from people who are fairly intelligent (college educated, have science jobs), who are generally decent people, and who honestly, truly believe that this is necessary to make America great. I have coworkers who truly believe that gay marriage (to pick one issue) weakens the country. They believe they have the "best interests of the country in mind". We just completely disagree on how to achieve that.

    Some of the problem is a lack of exposure to people different than them (e.g. I have a coworker who distrusts "all" Muslims, except the Muslims he knows). Some of the problem is listening to the mis-information and fear mongering on cable news. Some of it is probably bigotry. But if we assume that these people are just selfish, the lines of communication will never open.

  • . says:

    I had a Muslim male student working in my lab refuse to shake my hand, simply because I was a woman. Also would not look me in the eye, ever. I did find this sexist and insulting.

  • Philapodia says:


    Do you wear a hijab? If his culture requires that then he may have found your lack disconcerting.

    Shaking hands is highly cultural, and some cultures view handshaking as rude.

    We are all influenced by our culture, and taking offense at another culture (or not understanding yours) is silly.

  • . says:

    I found it offensive - not only the handshake, but the lack of eye contact, ever. Just because I was a senior woman PI. It is hard to have someone work for you in the lab as a student when they will not look at you in the eyes.

    He was not an immigrant, although his parents were.

    I don't think I should have to wear either a hijab or burka as a PI for his comfort as my student (he found my bare arms and legs distracting), hence the eye contact issues. Are you suggesting that I change my dress (standard for professional women) in order to make him comfortable?

    He was also interested in going to medical school, in which he would have to interact with women as professionals and patients.

  • Philapodia says:

    Why would you change how you dress? This seems to be about conflict with his cultural biases, not yours. Thinking about things from others perspective is important in any career, which is something that you can perhaps model for him. He wants to be successful in a culture that is significantly different than what he may have been raised in, and even second generation immigrants (which would be) can have deeply ingrained cultural biases that are significantly different than the community they live in due to family insularity. This can be difficult to change since it may run counter to his upbringing, but it can be done with time and effort. Perhaps you can gently mentor him on how he may need to adapt to the wider community so he can be successful. If he refuses to (or can't) change, then perhaps he needs to find another lab to work in.

  • John Cohen says:

    I lived in a majority hispanic city growing up. It wasn't so much bigotry and ignorance against them as economic competition. Wealthier friends didn't mind them at all, they went to private schools and their parents didn't have to compete with the immigrants for jobs. My poorer friends hated them, they had their income lowered by job competition. At work, most of my coworkers never have had to live in that sort of situation, and so use the Trump trouble as another excuse to sneer at and mock lower class people. And then we wonder why we can't win more people over. This is a class issue, not a race issue, and we really should think over what immigration does to our working class. Flooding the labor markets with cheap labor is what the capitalists want, not the true left.

  • Gina Baucom says:

    Thanks for writing this BrainProf. I see the same--amazing students who work so hard--who, because of their background, are likely affected by this hateful rhetoric. It is disconcerting to the max to see this happening.

  • eeke says:

    @. I also had a male Islamic student working in my lab. Same thing - would not touch women (including shaking hands). This lead to a number of awkward and uncomfortable moments. Generally, you should not obligate people who work for you (or anyone) to have physical contact with you, even shaking hands. I had discussed this issue with this student and explained to him how many people in this country don't understand or aren't aware of that custom (it works the same for women - they are not allowed to touch men outside their own family) and could easily take offense. I suggested to him that he find a way to explain himself in those situations, or to simply not touch anyone, including men; come up with an alternate respectful gesture (head nod or something). He was completely on board with that. Bottom line, resist being resentful, and instead speak openly about it in some way so that you understand each other. The great thing about this country is that everyone is free to practice whatever religion or custom they wish. peacefully.

  • . says:

    He also would not sit next to women on airplanes, trains or buses - even in the back seat of cars. Tough to travel to meetings!

    Would you expect to be moved on public transportation so that it is not necessary that he ever sit next to any woman because of his religious beliefs on incidental touching? Isn't that like women being moved to the back of the bus? Maybe women can be seated together at the back.

    Of course I spoke openly with him regarding culture expectations and I was not the first to do so - he was in engineering for a reason - avoidance of women. He ended up not going to medical school, in grad school in mechanical engineering, so that he could avoid women (sadly all too easy to do).

    Many of immigrants come from cultures in which women are second class citizens, and good science may occur because these are bright students, but may encourage sexist behavior in the public workplace in the name of religion.

  • eeke says:

    Unfortunately, oppression of women can occur with almost any religion. Ted Cruz's dominionists are no exception, nor are the republican nut jobs in congress and elsewhere across the country who are trying to suppress women's access to healthcare, among other things, in the name of "religious freedom." Not an immigration issue.

  • . says:

    I did not say sexism was limited to immigrants - that is an obviously false statement.

    Back to the original heartwarming immigrant anti-hatred anecdotes. How wonderful that a bright Muslim male contributed to science - without any apparent recognition by the author that as a woman in the same lab/department, I would have to tolerate lack of handshaking/touching, being asked to move during travel, being regarded as a second class citizen, sexism, ect. Perhaps an oversight, but relevant to the status of women in science.

    I'm not moving to the back of the bus.

  • drugmonkey says:


  • BrainProf says:


    Said male student never had a problem with any of the women in the lab (ie. the majority of my lab), and had no problems shaking hands or working side by side with them. My point about writing this is not to say that immigration is not a complex issue, but rather to highlight that immigration and immigrants have a positive impact in our society. As far as economic competition goes, sure, we can start a debate using hard data about the impact of immigration on real wages, etc. But what I'm seeing here is not a real discussion, but simply hateful rhetoric driven by racial and other stereotypes and scapegoating.

  • anon says:


    Until Ted Cruz proposes taking away women's right to drive or run for office without a male guardian, it's disingenuous to compare the 'oppression' of women by the GOP to what goes on in many Muslim-dominated cultures such as KSA.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Yes, let's wait until it is as bad as the worst oppression we can dream up before objecting to assbag policies that h8 on women's equality and decent treatment. That's a great standard.

  • anon says:

    You're putting words in my mouth- I said nothing about objecting to any policy.

    I just said that comparing policies like defunding PP (or whatever) to, you know, actual oppression, wears one's credibility thin.

  • eeke says:

    yes, anon, and I said nothing about policies in some Middle Eastern countries against women, either. Barring rights to healthcare is oppression, no matter who or where it comes from.

  • anon says:

    I'm pretty sure you were comparing the 'oppression' of Ted Cruz to .'s descriptions of behaviors such as men and women not being allowed to sit beside each other on public transportation.

    That is, of course, Saudi Arabian policy, as women have their own 'reserved' sections on buses.

  • drugmonkey says:

    It cracks me up that anon imagines that anyone is being fooled by this asinine wordsalad debate champeen bullshit.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Check this blog post out:

    We come in a spectrum of skin tones and accents and creeds and political affiliations. We are working on extending American lifespan and putting Americans on Mars and teaching American students and volunteering to bring science to American neighborhoods. And all we ask for is a chance to work on discoveries and inventions that would make America great again.

  • MorganPhD says:

    Agree 100% that immigrants are a huge source of innovation and contribute immensely to the US economy. No question.

    The blog post you mention does a great job of appealing to common sense and to the emotional side of the issue. It's a nice post and I hope more people read it as well as your above guest post.

    I do take minor issue with the quote

    "if you care about the US staying competitive in science and technology, spending time and money on training people only to kick them out afterwards is simply a bad business model."

    Unfortunately for all of us trying to make a living, this is a FANTASTIC business model. Because business models only care about the short term ROI. In this case, work gets done, grants get renewed (ha, sometimes), and at a significantly lower cost than hiring full-time, benefits-having workers.

    Of course, this quote applies to ALL academic scientists as well. Native-born US scientists are casualties of the leaky STEM pipeline, with lots of "training" but low numbers of permanent jobs in the field they trained in.

    For PhD-and postdoc training, we have an unlimited ability (in academia) to bring over trainees on F1/J1 visas. That's truly a great business model and provides a skills exchange for all parties.

    I don't think unlimited (or increased) H1-B visas or the "staple a green card to your PhD" models are the right fit for academic science or for the country. Mainly because I don't think STEM (and ESPECIALLY academic science) is a special flower that should get special rules at the cost of driving down wages for all. We have absolutely critical job functions being performed by (both documented and undocumented) immigrants that aren't academic science-related. Why not the guy working 2 jobs at a grocery store? He's just as valuable to the American economy (IMO).

    I favor revamping the crap H1-B system that exists to prevent most H1-B visas from being handed out to a few for-profit companies. Companies that hire mainly bachelor's degree holders in IT fields. Companies like Disney and California Edison (for recent examples).

    Revamp the program to allow more US-trained, terminal-degree holding scientists (or any nationality) to stay here and contribute and build a life here in the US. But not at the expense of high-paying STEM jobs for those who are already here.

    *We shouldn't use the word business model to describe academic science, lest it becomes even more like a business such that it is unrecognizable as a moral and ethical good for our country.

  • . says:

    scenario 1:
    African American PI: the lab trainee refuses to shake hands based on black skin, refuses to look at black hair and skin (no eye contact), refuses to sit next to PI on public transportation because of touching a black skin color.

    conclusion: racist trainee, needs to amend behavior. PI is in the right as an African American to protest differential behavior.

    scenario 2:
    Female PI: the lab trainee refuses to shake hands based on female PI, refuses to look at uncovered hair and skin (no eye contact), refuses to sit next to PI on public transportation because of touching a female skin.

    conclusion: silly oversensitive PI, PI culturally insensitive, PI full of racist stereotypes.

    so - why the difference between the reactions to the two scenarios. Both are based on external factors (skin/appearances).

  • drugmonkey says:

    why the difference between the reactions to the two scenarios.

    For me it is mostly because because in one commentyou made it about all Muslim males, specifically the subject of this post.

    But this is merely you getting specific, because clearly you raised this point on this thread for the same reason. You are overgeneralizing from your one person.

    Now me, I tend to agree with you that when you come to the US and want to interact in the professional sphere, you need to assimilate to a certain extent. Dealing professionally with Muslim males, women with exposed arms, gay people, African-Americans, every other kind of hyphenAmericans, and yes, even Republican-Americans*, is a necessary level of assimilation.

    *I have one right on my hall, we get along fine.

  • . says:

    I think we can look to Europe for the failure of France and Germany to assimilate Muslim (mostly male) immigrants into society. Religious beliefs to not assimilate.

    Perhaps you should Google the New Year's Eve sexual assaults on hundreds of women by Muslim male immigrants in Germany - it is horrifying. Germany has offered cultural assimilation classes to Muslim males to help in the assimilation and particularly to changes in attitudes towards western women in immigrants. These classes are not well attended or successful as religious beliefs tend to be intractable.

    I don't prevent anyone from practicing their religion (my trainee was encouraged by me to pray - everyone takes breaks - I even have SMOKERS in my lab taking smoke breaks). But I draw the line at differential treatment in the public professional sphere because I am a woman, treatment which would not be accepted by anyone for an African American.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I'm still not seeing where you make this anecdote offered up by BrainProf (with the title obviously referring to the US of A and thematically even more obviously about Donald Trumpism) about all Muslim males, about Germany or pretty much about anything other than how great it is that two young scientists are doing a bang up job of being young scientists.

  • . says:

    Also, I was providing my individual experience as a counterpoint to the heartwarming individual anecdotes regarding immigrants who are "going to make America great again".

    The guest poster obviously set these up to generalize the positives of immigrants - but there are significant negatives for women. My experience may not be universal, but it is more than a single case or even unique.

    Would even a single case of racist behavior be tolerated?

  • . says:

    Ok then - two great students are doing well, nothing implied about immigration at all. they just happen to be immigrants one of which happens to be a male muslim.

    Nothing at all about immigration there. Really disingenuous.

    Back to grant review for me.

  • BrainProf says:


    "The guest poster obviously set these up to generalize the positives of immigrants - but there are significant negatives for women. My experience may not be universal, but it is more than a single case or even unique."

    I don't like extremists of any kind either, be they Hassidic Jews, Evangelical Christians or Muslim Fundamentalists. But extremisms comes in all flavors and to simply decry all muslims because one refused to shake your hand falls into all the tired old stereotypes used to scapegoat immigrants. I can offer a third example to counter your claim that letting muslims in the country has significant negatives for women. I currently teach an intro neuroscience course with 100+ students. So far, this term one of the students with the highest score in the class is a muslim woman. She wears a headscarf and doesn't seem oppressed by it. She seems to interact well with her peers during in class activities. Comes regularly to office hours, etc. So again another myth, "Islam is always denigrating to women" just doesn't hold up to my experience.

  • . says:

    And I can counter with other examples, as did at least one commentator.

    not shaking hands with a black person because their skin is "dirty" - a common behavior not so long ago in the South, now racist.

    not shaking hands with a woman because their skin is "impure" - perfectly acceptable behavior

    Unless you can tell me a reason for the different responses to scenario 1 with the African American PI vs. scenario 2 with the woman PI - It is more acceptable to be sexist than racist.

    BTW I am reviewing P50 Center grants - all male PIs, no surprise. But I am sure you know several female center directors. doesn't mean that the lack of female P50 directors is not an issue for NIH to address.

  • . says:

    The general political point that I am making is that not all people that oppose immigration are racist, conservative, ignorant, or jingoist "nutjobs".

    I am a leftist feminist and oppose immigration, due to the conservative values of immigrant populations regarding women's rights.

    Latino/Latinas are generally anti-abortion, and I doubt that in the community service example above she worked in an abortion clinic.

    I am unaware of any Muslim males that are pro-choice and advocate for womens rights.

    I do not want to see abortion rights eroded, and value Roe v Wade; so opposing immigration is a rational choice in "making America great" for prochoice women and women's rights.

  • BrainProf says:


    Are you seriously persisting with your broad generalizations? Latina women are now anti-women's rights? Sure some are, but doesn't seem higher than in the general population.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Really .? Don't you see that only wanting the right kind of immigrants to be allowed in falls into Rubio/Cruz/Trumpist behavior? Diversity means just that, you don't get to only allow in nice liberal democratic white Western Europeans without looking the bigot.

  • AZF says:

    I usually do not comment but I have to say something here. I am a woman, a Muslim by birth and heritage if not by practice, and a scientist. I come from a Bosnian Muslim background, a secular community that counts approximately 4 million people across the globe. My mother, also a Muslim, is an engineer and oversees 60 workers, majority of them male. None of the women in my family cover their heads. We regularly wear short skirts and drink alcohol. My sister is a physician scientist who regularly touches and examines male patients. The reason I am highlighting all this is that generalizations by . are frightening to me. I understand that her encounter with that Muslim male from that specific cultural background was uncomfortable and scary. But to take that one anecdote and use it as a justification to discriminate against billions of people who may fall under the (very wide) umbrella of that faith is terrifying. Especially for people like us, who have already suffered an attempted genocide.

  • Philapodia says:


    Thank you!

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