Sebastian Gorka is the controversial deputy assistant to President Trump who has been criticized by both sides of the aisle, from counterterrorism expert Michael S. Smith II to Full Frontal host Samantha Bee. He is also a former professor at Pázmány Péter Catholic University. From this position, he taught courses that students in the USF study abroad program, “USF in Budapest,” were given credit for. A group of USF alumni who took classes with him in this program speak out below. Mr. Gorka was unavailable for comment. Mr. Gorka’s relation to the “USF in Budapest” program has been confirmed by the USF Provost’s office.
Dear USF community members,
We write to you today as concerned former students of Sebestyén (Sebastian) Lukács Gorka, Deputy Assistant to the President of the United States and former lecturer at Péter Pázmány Catholic University (Pázmány Péter Katolikus Egyetem) who was hired by PPKE to teach courses in the USF in Budapest Program. Mr. Gorka has made headlines recently for his aggressive, exclusionary rhetoric against Muslims and immigrants and for his combative tone with the press. As USF alumni with a unique connection to this controversial political figure, we feel compelled to speak out.
USF’s core mission is to promote learning in the Jesuit Catholic tradition, proudly encouraging us to develop “a commitment to explore, engage, and improve the world around us” by “taking action against the things that degrade human dignity” and “amplifying the voices of the underserved, disadvantaged, and poor.”
It was in this spirit of exploring and engaging that, as USF students, we traveled to Budapest, Hungary in 2001 and 2002, where we met and took classes from Mr. Gorka. Now, we feel compelled by these USF values to take action through protesting what we believe is the degradation of human dignity by Mr. Gorka and the administration he works for.
As a university lecturer, Mr. Gorka often adopted a belligerent teaching style, reminiscent of the way he now speaks to reporters. His modern Hungarian history course omitted discussion of the Holocaust, failing to acknowledge the half million Hungarian Jews murdered by the Nazis and their Hungarian collaborators in the Second World War. For us, it was hardly surprising when Mr. Gorka called recent criticism of the White House’s statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day for not mentioning Jews “asinine” and “absurd.” He didn’t find it important then, and doesn’t find it important now.
On Fox News’ “The Sean Hannity Show,” Mr. Gorka said the U.S. needed to accept “the fact that we are a Christian nation.” He later called accepting refugees “a contract for national suicide.” He told the Washington Post that the “martial language” of the Quran roots the threat of terrorism in Islam itself and that “nuance” to the issue of terrorism needs to be “completely jettison[ed].”
We reject the idea of a civilizational war between Islam and the Western world. President Trump, Mr. Gorka and their allies want us to believe in this war to justify their discriminatory policies as protective measures. But religious discrimination is antithetical to our personal values and the core values espoused at USF. As students and academics, we also reject the idea that nuance and complexity should not have a role in American foreign policy decisions.
Mr. Gorka has also been criticized for wearing a medal of the Order of Vitéz to an inaugural ball. The Order of Vitéz has origins in Hungary’s anti-Semitic interwar government and is labeled by the US State Department as having ties to Nazi Germany. In defending his decision to wear the medal, Mr. Gorka said he did so to honor his parents who fled the Soviet invasion of their country in 1956. They were welcomed in the United Kingdom as political refugees and allowed to build their lives there.
Imagine if his parents had been subjected to a travel ban that prohibited refugees from emigrating due to security concerns. If Mr. Gorka wants to honor them, perhaps he should start by showing empathy for the vulnerable refugees of 2017 – the modern-day version of his parents.
Mr. Gorka has made a point of vigorously attacking those who disagree with him and President Trump as being “un-American.” Although he often rails against “totalitarianism,” he seems more than comfortable embracing a classic totalitarian technique – stifling opposition and the press. In a recent NPR interview, Mr. Gorka stated that he was “not interested in the chattering classes of Los Angeles, New York, . . . and San Francisco.” We feel compelled to remind Mr. Gorka that those of us who live in the United States’ urban areas – like his former students from the University of San Francisco – are every bit as American as anyone else. Our opposition to the president’s discriminatory policies does not change that.
Not many Americans have personally met Mr. Gorka, but we have. Not many people know who he is, but we do. He may use his bravado and condescension to try to discredit our concerns, but we speak out because we take seriously our university’s call to amplify the voices of the most vulnerable. And if we learned anything from Mr. Gorka, perhaps it is to not stand down when other people tell us to.