Nalini Ghuman, an assistant professor of music at Mills College, recently stepped into the United States for the first time in nearly two years, ending her struggle to reenter the country.
Now teaching on campus again, the Mills community welcomes her return.
“It feels great to be back,” said Ghuman. But, she added, “It’s not easy to just pick up again after so much time.”
Ghuman did not arrive at Mills until Jan. 24, 2008. The Department of State barred her from reentering the U.S. after being held at San Francisco Airport August 8, 2006, on her way back from a research trip with her husband, then her fiancé, Paul Flight.
She said that she was finally allowed to reenter the U.S. as a result of an international campaign of support, which included Congresswoman Barbara Lee and her staff, senior Mills officials, and the American Musicological Society, which headed the effort and kept a webpage providing updates of her situation.
She also said thousands of petitioning letters were sent to the Department of State on her behalf.
“I have learned that great resolve and determination can lead to success. What has happened here is a triumph,” she said.
Ghuman said Mills worked with its lawyer to aid her cause. She added that Mills’ lawyer wrote that given the fact that her visa had been reinstated, “the previous revocation was clearly in error.”
The campus community has welcomed her back enthusiastically. “I have received extraordinary kind and warm messages of welcome from students, faculty, and staff across the campus,” said Ghuman. Some, she said, are coming from people who she doesn’t yet know personally, but who have followed her story.
The music department appreciated having one of their prized faculty members back. “Our department is like a family, and we were missing one of our family members,” said David Bernstein, head of the music department at Mills.
Ghuman’s absence posed difficulties for the department, as each semester brought uncertainty as to whether she would be able to return or not. “Every semester I would wait to the very last minute before I would replace her courses. That’s a scheduling nightmare for a department,” Bernstein said.
He said that because of this, others are teaching some of Ghuman’s courses, but she is still teaching “The World of Opera,” and a Special Topics course titled “Nationalism and Music.”
The Provost’s Office could not be reached for comment, but both Ghuman and Bernstein conveyed gratitude for Provost Mary-Ann Milford’s support.
In a statement to the Mills community, dated Feb. 11, 2007, Milford expressed “great relief” that “Ghuman has returned safely to Mills after her harrowing ordeal.”
Those involved have learned much from this ordeal. “Political tension, bureaucratic ineptness-it’s a wake up call,” said Bernstein, “To see what can happen and to imagine what’s happening to citizens or people from other countries who don’t have the support of Mills College.”
Ghuman echoed a similar sentiment. “Injustice is a part of our world,” she said. “My story is part of a larger tragedy.” She said once her story gained international attention, letters flooded in from people explaining their personal experiences.
“There are many people who have been-and are-in situations that I’ve been in. People’s lives are being destroyed,” she said.
Senior Stephanie Hartomo had Ghuman as her advisor during her first two years at Mills. “It was a loss when she wasn’t allowed to enter the states,” said Hartomo, “Because she’s definitely a huge asset to the music department.”
She added that she was “so ecstatic and surprised and happy” when she learned of Ghuman’s return. She hopes to take Ghuman’s Nationalism and Music course.
Since she was last on campus, Ghuman says her priority has been “the struggle for justice.”
She also gave papers at conferences, published articles, and worked on her book manuscript and piano repertoire. Last spring, with the help of Vice President of Operations Renee Jadushlever, she broadcast a small seminar course with Mills seniors and graduate students via videolink from the University of Wales.
“That really helped to keep a strong connection with my students,” she said.