Protesters filled Whitmore lobby in response to chancellor’s email on sanctuary campuses

By Danny Cordova

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(Jess Picard/Daily Collegian)

(Jess Picard/Daily Collegian)

 

A crowd of around 150 students and community members gathered outside of the Whitmore Administration Building on Friday to hear Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy’s response to a list of demands delivered Wednesday. One demand stated that the University of Massachusetts should be made a sanctuary campus.

At 3:10 p.m., an email was sent from the chancellor’s office to the UMass community. Aurora Santiago, a doctoral student studying social justice education, read the message.

The email stated that the demands protesters raised at Wednesday’s walkout, including for the UMass Administration to not cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, are policies that are already put in place and that the administration has no intention in weakening those policies.

“I and my administration are fully committed, as we always been, to ensuring a safe and welcoming environment for every member of our community, regardless of immigration status,” the email read.

The email stated that UMass Police Department does not gather information relating to immigration status, that the University is committed to protecting student confidentiality unless compelled to do so by court order and that there are no plans to discontinue in-state resident tuition for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) students.

The letter drew resentment from the crowd as the letter did not clearly state that the University was to become a sanctuary campus. A group of five was selected from the crowd in the hopes of getting word from the chancellor on whether or not UMass was to be declared a sanctuary campus.

At 3:30 p.m., the group sent inside returned to address the crowd. Among one of the members was Regina East, a senior Afro-American studies major. According to East, when the group of five arrived to confront the chancellor, they learned that is chancellor is away.

Instead, another administrator addressed the group and insisted that the statement was “clear” and that the University was not ready to use the words “sanctuary campus.”

“Why isn’t [Subbaswamy] here to make these statements instead of me doing it,” East asked to the crowd.

At 3:40 p.m. after receiving the news, the crowd of protesters formed two single fill lines with the intentions to fill the lobby of the Whitmore building for about five minutes. During that time, protesters engaged with one another in discussion of why they decided to come out and protest.

The crowd chanted “Sí, se puede” (Yes, you can) as they left Whitmore and dispersed shortly after. Santiago Vidales ensured to the crowd that their movement is not over.

Jonathan Jenner, a graduate student studying economics, stated that it was important for UMass to recognize itself as a sanctuary campus.

“It’s important, I think, to join the movement and to declare that, yeah, this is a sanctuary campus,” Jenner said. “There is also a symbolic power that I think is really important and that’s why saying ‘sanctuary campus’ is important to join a nationwide movement.”

While attending a meeting in Northampton, Jenner heard that some undocumented immigrants in Northampton were happy to hear about the large turnout from students and community members at the walkout on Wednesday.

“I think this symbolic power is incredibly important as well, in terms of combatting Trumpism and I certainly would like to have Subbaswamy to participate in it,” Jenner said.

The University has provided a support structure to make accommodations for students in extenuating circumstances, according to the email, and cannot be present in campus by providing them online degree completion options, that the administration has tasked the International Programs Office to serve as a resource for counseling and information for international students and will work with “community partners to further mobilize support for these initiatives.”

The email also stated that while UMass as a state institution is bound to comply to state and federal law, “enforcement of federal immigration policy is not within our remit.”

“I am acutely aware of the fear for personal safety, well-being and livelihood many in our community are experiencing, particularly those in marginalized group,” Subbaswamy wrote in his email. “I am heartened by the activism of our students, faculty and staff and join them in their call for everyone to come together to stand against hate and intolerance.”

Destani O’Brien, a junior dance major, expressed frustration toward the Administration’s statement on their commitment in providing protection to immigrants while having to comply to the enforcement of federal immigration policies.

“Overall, I’m a little bit aggravated,” O’Brien said. “But at the same time, I think this sent a very big message and we’ll be back because there is no way you can just leave it like that.”

“Not surprising that the administration wants to take things slowly,” said Sean Tousey-Pfarrer, a junior sustainable food and farming major. “As far as protecting people from being deported, steady progress is not enough. We need to protect people now and the (chancellor’s letter) was very agreeing with our sentiments however it did not reiterate our language.”

Danny Cordova can be reached at [email protected], and followed on Twitter @DannyJCordova.