College and university students across the United States have been staging protests and walkouts to show their dissatisfaction with the results of this presidential election. Students at the University of Nevada, Reno, have chosen to show their disapproval of the president-elect in another way. UNR’s Latinx Student Advisory Board gathered over 700 signatures on a letter and petition the group plans to send to UNR’s Office of the President and Office of the Provost asking to make UNR a sanctuary campus.
Sanctuary cities are defined as cities in the U.S. that follow procedures sheltering undocumented immigrants. Sanctuary campuses follow the same concept — they are universities that have pledged to protect undocumented students from facing deportation.
“We all know someone who is undocumented, and we feel that it is an injustice to try to say that students shouldn’t be allowed to pursue an education, especially if they’ve been here for so long, and it is unimaginable for our community and it us unjust,” said Jeffrey Dominguez, president of LSAB. “At the very basis we know students, faculty and staff that will all be affected by his [Trump’s] policies, so we really want the university to take into consideration the diverse population because, even if I am not a DACA student, I know someone who is going to be affected and that greatly affects my life. It is just really important for us that the university stand with those who pay tuition and those who are part of the community and the system of higher education.”
Dominguez said he and the rest of LSAB are concerned over the safety of DACA students as well as other minorities. DACA students are part of what U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services define as “deferred action,” which protects the students from being deported during a defined period of time. DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, and DACA students generally have come to the U.S. as children and have met the specific guidelines to be granted deferred action.
LSAB is a student organization dedicated to contributing to the betterment of the university’s Latinx community. LSAB focuses on the inclusion of the Latino community on campus through socials, community service and community engagement. LSAB has been highly focused on the issues DACA students will face under the Trump administration.
“It’s really just about creating a safe space not only for undocumented people but intellectuals that want to have the conversation about these issues that affect us, and I think if we as a university supported that, we could have these safe places of conversation,” Dominguez said.
In an email sent to all students at UNR earlier this month after election night, President Marc Johnson told students, “Our President-Elect has used very derogatory and divisive terms related to people of diverse religions, races, national origins, disabilities and genders. It is our sincere hope that these comments from leadership are not taken as license for others to denigrate anyone. As a University, we are committed to fostering a campus environment that respects, supports and values all members of our wonderfully diverse learning community.
“Through our words and our actions, we honor every individual who studies and works at the University. We feel very strongly that our diversity is one of our greatest assets; it not only makes our institution whole, it allows all of us to realize our fullest potential as human beings.”
During his campaign, president-elect Trump said he planned on deporting about 2 to 3 million undocumented immigrants. Trump saw pushback from a number of Democratic and Republican leaders in response to his deportation comments. President Barack Obama said earlier this month that he will urge the Trump administration not to deport DACA students.
The election rhetoric spurred LSAB to create its petition. The organization created a Google Doc to gain signatures on its petition to make UNR a sanctuary campus. Dominguez said LSAB posted the petition on Facebook two Fridays ago, and the post gained 50 shares by the end of the following weekend.
“It was something that grew very quickly, and we had a very positive reaction to it all,” Dominguez said. “I have noticed among friends that have shared it in their groups — for example, one of my white friends shared it on her Facebook and she got some negative comments that said, ‘Hey, why are you supporting illegal activity.’ I think the reactions were mixed depending on the crowd, but for me this is the quickest support we have seen for anything; we have close to 700 signatures, and it is completely social media-based.”
In LSAB’s letter, the organization urges the president, provost and the Board of Regents to make UNR a sanctuary campus. The letter states, “As students of a university that serves many of the groups who were targeted and denigrated during the President-Elect’s campaign, we write with urgency to request that you make our campus a sanctuary for our students, our staff, our faculty and their family members who face imminent deportation.
“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers cannot enter the campus without permission of the university, which means that UNR can protect undocumented individuals. Given that many students, staff and their families are directly affected by this issue, we urge the university to develop a protocol for the University of Nevada, Reno, to serve as a sanctuary campus, placing restrictions on law enforcement.”
The letter also asks that amid the election rhetoric, the university reaffirm its commitment to diversity and denounce any hate speech directed toward students, faculty and staff; prohibit campus security from asking about an individual’s immigration status; prohibit housing discrimination; and publicly support the continuation of the DACA program.
“The petition really highlights certain demands that we have of the university,” Dominguez said. “We want the university to support financial aid for undocumented students to the best of its ability. We also itemize resources that are more inclusive of other minority groups that were under attack during the campaign, so we really just want to create a safe space for minorities and for people who are undocumented because we don’t know what can happen and we really want to fight for people who are scared.”
Dominguez said he and the rest of LSAB plan on delivering the letter to the Office of the President and the Office of the Provost on Nov. 29.
Dominguez said he and LSAB had a conversation with some faculty members earlier this month to discuss the pushback that might occur if UNR were to become a sanctuary campus.
“I think that the bigger it gets, the more of a negative reaction we’re going to get from it because there are people outside of the community and outside of the university that do not understand the issue completely,” Dominguez said. “Some of the faculty were talking about how if the university were to become a sanctuary university by title, that might anger other donors or people saying, ‘Hey, this is a public university, what are you doing?’ I think the bigger it gets, the opposition will come out, and that is fine because I think it is a conversation we need to have and we want to gain support, but it is also something we want to change people’s minds about and introduce that topic into their heads so we can learn from each other.”
Rachel Spacek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @Nevada Sagebrush