Creating sanctuary on campus

Share This

On Thursday, Jan. 19, thousands of educators will come together with students, parents and community members to stand against hate. In the face of the racism, xenophobia, misogyny and anti-Semitism increasingly evident since the presidential campaign, AFT higher education faculty and staff will demand their campuses provide sanctuary for the country's most vulnerable people—including undocumented immigrants, Muslims, African-Americans and all people of color, and LGBTQ people.

The surge of support for marginalized students, faculty, staff and families follows one of the most bruising ideological campaigns in recent history. Swastikas, nooses and racist graffiti are appearing on college campuses, professors are being placed on watch lists and tens of thousands of undocumented students face renewed threats of deportation. Muslims remember Trump's campaign rhetoric threatening a national registry identifying people by religion. Victims of sexual assault and hate crimes heard him personally legitimize sexual violence and signal that he will dismantle the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, which has helped colleges protect against sexual violence.

Milwaukee Area Technical College eventsSo AFT activists, with others involved in the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, are participating in a Day of Action the day before the presidential inauguration. At preK-12 schools, teachers, paraprofessionals, students, families and community members will stage rallies and other actions to fight the president-elect's agenda to dismantle public education. They will demand that students and their families are protected against bullying, racism and deportation; urge the Senate to reject Betsy DeVos as secretary of education; and increase investment in public schools by making Wall Street billionaires pay their fair share and by protecting Title I funds.

At colleges and universities, higher education members will focus on creating sanctuary campuses. While there is no official definition for "sanctuary," the following are some of the measures the AFT is urging administrators to adopt:

  • Refuse to give U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement physical access to campus for investigating or detaining students, faculty and campus workers.
  • Prohibit campus security from inquiring about or recording immigration status or enforcing immigration laws.
  • Refuse to voluntarily release academic records, employment records or membership lists of organizations to the Department of Homeland Security, ICE or other law enforcement agencies targeting individuals solely on the basis of their immigration status, religion, racial or ethnic background, sex or gender identity, sexual preference, or political affiliation.
  • Defend the principles of academic freedom and specifically decry and defend against blacklisting faculty.
  • Aggressively protect the civil rights of all members of the campus community from crime, including hate crimes and sexual assault, and continue to use the guidelines for handling sexual assault cases released by the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights, regardless of whether that office is modified or eliminated.
  • Provide the financial, academic and social supports to students, faculty and campus workers necessary to ensure true educational opportunity and economic well-being, recognizing that these supports are particularly vital for people who may be targets because of immigration status, religion, racial or ethnic background, sex or gender identity, sexual preference, or political affiliation.

AFT activists are sending demands like the ones listed above to administrators and rallying to educate and encourage others to support similar measures. Members of United Faculty of Miami Dade College will lock arms to form a human fence around their campus on Jan. 19, indicating their solid stance against hate on campus. Members of Cornell Graduate Students United were among those who walked out in November to indicate opposition to a Trump administration, and their efforts to declare a sanctuary campus resulted in the adoption of policies protecting students with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status.

In New Jersey, faculty and staff members of the Rutgers Council of AAUP Chapters, AAUP-AFT, led a petition for sanctuary, and the college has since approved such measures as withholding student records unless there is a court order, warrant or subpoena, and accepting in-state tuition for DACA students. Personal convictions like those of Rutgers AAUP-AFT President David Hughes drove the action: "I do not take fingerprints at my classroom door, I do not check passports, and my classroom is open to anybody and everybody who is willing to learn," Hughes told students. "In order to get to students, the Trump administration would have to go through the faculty, and that's how many of us feel."

Milwaukee Area Technical College events

In addition to circulating a student-generated petition for sanctuary, Local 212 at Milwaukee Area Technical College held several "Unity, Tolerance and Inclusion" events after the election to answer student questions, respond to concerns, and reassure students that faculty, counselors and staff are supporting them. (Pictured in the photos.) Administrators there have reaffirmed a ban on external policing that has not been cleared by the school. "Many of our students at MATC, the state's only majority minority college, are immigrants and refugees," said Local 212 President Michael Rosen. "We recognize that our responsibility to our students, the vast majority of whom are from low-income families, extends beyond the curriculum."

Days after the election, members of the Professional Staff Congress at the City University of New York told students in an open letter that "no matter what happens in the months and years to come, our classrooms, laboratories, libraries, studios and offices will remain spaces where the targeting of students based on their identities, beliefs, appearance or immigration status will never, ever be tolerated." And in early December, PSC also demanded that CUNY become a sanctuary university.

In California, the University of California, California State University and California Community College systems released a joint statement supporting immigrant students, as did the leaders of the state Legislature. But even with these declarations, "We should have no illusion that these are going to be very difficult times for immigrant communities and immigrant students," says Kent Wong, a vice president of the California Federation of Teachers and director of the UCLA Labor Center, where his work focuses on immigrant rights. Immigration policy is controlled at the federal level, not by states and municipalities, he notes. "It's very important for the education community to stand by our students and to say that our schools, our campuses, are safe spaces."

[Virginia Myers/photos by Kevin Mulvenna]