'Embrace this acceptance': Amid Fufeng debate, Armacost reassures campus of its welcoming atmosphere
Statement comes after reports of Chinese students and faculty at UND expressing discomfort over Grand Forks mayor's comment about "Chinese connections" in the wake of the Fufeng decision.
GRAND FORKS — After some faculty with Chinese heritage expressed discomfort over Grand Forks' debate about the proposed Fufeng USA corn mill project, UND President Andrew Armacost said the university is committed to creating an inclusive environment for all students and faculty.
"Let me assure you that every UND student and faculty member will continue to find a welcome home on the UND campus," Armacost said in a campus statement on Thursday, Feb. 2. "My sincere hope is that the university and the citizens of Grand Forks continue to model and embrace this acceptance."
Armacost's statement comes two days after Mayor Brandon Bochenski issued a statement opposing the construction of Fufeng's proposed corn milling operation in Grand Forks County. In his statement, Bochenski said a directive from the federal government “leaves open the question of other entities with Chinese connections across the nation, to include Grand Forks’ Cirrus Aircraft site location and Chinese students and professors at the University of North Dakota.”
It all came after the controversy surrounding the Fufeng plant came to a head on Tuesday, when the U.S. Department of the Air Force declared the proposed agribusiness a threat to national security. It is the probable end to the project's hopes of building in Grand Forks.
On Wednesday, Bochenski appeared on Forum News Service columnist Rob Port’s “Plain Talk” podcast. There, he said Armacost had contacted him saying members of the campus community with Chinese heritage expressed discomfort over the aforementioned line from the statement.
“I got a call from UND’s president this morning, and he said there are Chinese students and professors who are really feeling uncomfortable today,” said Bochenski.
Armacost said he had a conversation with Bochenski on Wednesday, during which he shared concerns about the impact the language of Bochenski's speech had on the campus community.
"We talked about what Mayor Bochenski had written, and I shared with him that his inclusion of Chinese students and faculty at UND had certainly raised some interest on campus," said Armacost. "That's why I put a note out to the campus today — to reassure all of our students, regardless of what nation or state they come from, have a welcome place on campus, and should feel a tremendous sense of belonging here at UND."
Faith Wahl, UND student body president, said she isn’t personally aware of any concerns from students regarding Fufeng. She expressed a commitment to fostering an inclusive and welcoming environment at UND.
“Overall, the Fufeng corn plant itself hasn’t been a huge student-facing issue,” said Wahl. “UND will always be committed to maintaining a diverse and inclusive community.”
David Dodds, UND director of communications, told the Herald on Wednesday that UND "has not in any way taken a stance for or against Fufeng."
Armacost also reaffirmed UND's strong ties to the defense community in his statement.
"UND values its strong relationships with the Grand Forks community and the Grand Forks Air Force Base," Armacost said. "We will also continue to engage in partnerships and collaborations with the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Space Force to improve national security. At the same time, we can work together to make UND and Grand Forks a welcoming place for all students and faculty, especially those who add so much to our region’s cultural diversity while contributing to the success and vibrancy of our university in many different ways."
Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer on Thursday told the Herald that it's best to remember that there is a difference between people of Chinese descent and the actual Chinese Communist Party.
"Some of those relationships in Grand Forks have been there for decades, with professors, with students and with other people. Just because they are Chinese doesn’t make them an enemy," Cramer said. "People are sensitive to that but they can sometimes forget."