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Guilford needs to become a sanctuary campus, declare support for students

Let’s play connect the dots.

What do Portland State University, Reed College, Wesleyan University, Pitzer College, Santa Fe Community College, the University of Pennsylvania, Connecticut College, Drake University and Swarthmore College have in common?

These nine institutions of higher learning are sanctuary campuses, schools that protect undocumented students. Why isn’t Guilford the 10th?

On Nov. 18, 2016, the presidents of Portland State and Reed, both located in Portland, Oregon, became the first to declare their institutions as sanctuary campuses. They provide excellent models for other colleges and universities looking to do the same.

“As a sanctuary college, Reed will not assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the investigation of the immigration status of our students, staff or faculty absent a direct court order,” said Reed President John R. Kroger in an official statement. “In addition, Reed College does not discriminate in admission on the basis of immigration status.

“We meet the full financial need of all admitted students, including undocumented students. This means we provide institutional financial aid to make up for the federal aid that these students are unable to apply for, such as Pell Grants.”

Considering Guilford’s past financial struggles, total institutional aid isn’t possible. But the College could certainly appeal to donors to step up their game and fund scholarships specifically for undocumented students.

It’s not as if our humble Quaker campus hasn’t defied those in power with ingenuity before.

Quaker abolitionist Levi Coffin and others used the Guilford woods as a terminus for the Underground Railroad. During World War II, the College allowed five Japanese-Americans to become students at a time when the federal government wanted to intern them in camps.

On Oct. 13, 1961, Guilford’s board of trustees adopted a policy to integrate the student body. As a result, Washington Rakama ’64 became the first black Guilford graduate, and plenty of other black students have earned diplomas since.

Much like the students are doing now, the students then appealed to Guilford’s virtues to push for progress.

“Guilford College, a Christian, Quaker institution, during the observance of its 125th year of continuous education, has added to the significance of this year by adopting a policy of integration,” wrote Charles Baker, a guest columnist for The Guilfordian, on Oct. 27, 1961. “This action is to be praised, but in reflection, it is a decision which, in respect to the Christian principles of Guilford College, should have been reached many years ago.”

It’s especially frustrating that our College isn’t a sanctuary campus in light of how our community leads the way on other issues today.

When the refugee crisis was at fever pitch in 2015, Associate Professor of English Diya Abdo spearheaded Every Campus a Refuge. Under the program, Guilford has hosted two Syrian families and a Ugandan one.

Every Campus a Refuge certainly wasn’t popular when it was conceived.

My position is there’s just too much risk to the safety of the community,” said North Carolina Rep. John Blust in an interview with WGHP on Nov. 17, 2015. “The chance of a horrific incident happening will be greatly enhanced if we allow people to come from Syria and relocate here in this community, let alone North Carolina.”

Last semester, President Jane Fernandes talked about her experience at the 10th annual Soy un Lider conference, an event founded by Irving Zavaleta Jimenez ’08, assistant director for Multicultural Education and Latino community coordinator, and Yazmin Garcia Rico ’11.

“The theme for this year’s event, “Sí Se Puede” (Yes We Can), was indeed right on target,” wrote Fernandes in her blog, Jane’s Friendly View. “As I shared with the students, Irving and Yazmin are clear examples that age, race, socioeconomic status — even your legal status — should never be barriers to doing great things.”

If Guilford wants to nurture more success stories like these, then it only makes sense that the College takes a firm stance on protecting undocumented students.

I understand, though, that could impact the school’s federal funding and paint targets on the backs of undocumented students.

“Consequently, to the extent that establishing Guilford College as a sanctuary would mean open defiance of the law, doing so would serve to expose the people feeling most at risk and draw unnecessary attention to them,” said Fernandes in an email to the community Nov. 28. “That is not your intent, nor is it mine. We both share a first commitment to the safety and security of all students.”

Though President Donald Trump hasn’t gotten rid of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, his administration, the Department of Homeland Security and ICE have ramped up deportation efforts. This impacts the lives of millions of U.S. residents, many of whom are no threat to society.

In this tense climate, undocumented students deserve access to an education without fear. Guilford should officially be a place where that’s possible.

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