Trinity Addresses Faculty's Sanctuary Campus Request

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Following the results of the presidential election, a flurry of college communities across the country have urged their administrations to adopt the status of a “sanctuary campus” in order to protect international students and other members of their communities that may have their status threatened by a Trump presidency.
Trinity College was hit by this snowstorm of support for the status of a sanctuary campus. Vijay Prashad, George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and Professor of International Studies, recently spearheaded an effort urging “the College establish itself as a ‘sanctuary center of higher education,’ committed to protecting the members of its community from unfair deportation, investigation, or other intimidation” in a letter signed by almost 100 other faculty members. Other NESCACs have voiced similar concerns and one has already committed to the designation. Wesleyan University President Michael Roth recently declared Wesleyan a sanctuary campus that will not voluntarily support the deportation of students and faculty because of immigration status, as reported by the Hartford Courant.
On Monday, Nov. 21, President Berger-Sweeney and administrators met with Professor Prashad and faculty members to discuss this possibility of establishing Trinity as a sanctuary campus. The Tripod spoke with President Berger-Sweeney and Professor Prashad about the outcome of the meeting and the progress of Trinity’s status as a Sanctuary Campus.
Trinity Tripod: Was the meeting productive? Did the administration come to any conclusions about Trinity becoming a sanctuary campus?
J.Berger-Sweeney: The meeting was productive. The purpose of the meeting was to determine with greater clarity what the faculty members were requesting in their letter. The letter requested that “the College establish itself as a ‘sanctuary center of higher education.’” We discussed with the faculty what that means and what aspects of sanctuary they were requesting. We discussed whether the term “sanctuary” was critical in a declaration, which is what Wesleyan declared, or whether the statements made by the President of Pomona College, which did not use the term “sanctuary” but defined specific policies was more important for our campus. The administration also shared with faculty members that Hartford is a sanctuary city, and Connecticut has statewide policies that are consistent with one definition of sanctuary.
V. Prashad: The meeting was very productive. About 22 faculty members came for the meeting. We shared our concerns with the President about the question of undocumented and other vulnerable students (and staff). The President said that she would consider our views and – in conversation with the Trustees – would make a decision on the question of a sanctuary.
TT: Was the Board of Trustees included in the meeting or consulted prior to or following the meeting?
JBS: As president of the College, I am a member of the Board of Trustees and I was in attendance. No other members of the board attended the meeting. I notified the Chair of the Board, Cornie Thornburgh, about the meeting.
TT: What are Trinity’s next steps in addressing this issue?
JBS: The administration agreed to compose a letter and share it with the members of the Board of Trustees. Everyone agreed it would be important for Trinity College to make a public statement by the end of the week on this issue. I have drafted a statement that I will share with other trustees early in the week. We expect to be able to share a statement with the public later in the week.
TT: How do you think the student body and alumni will react to Trinity’s decision to become or not to become a sanctuary campus?
JBS: I continue to think that it is important to determine more explicitly what we are agreeing to do and not to do and recognize that the new administration of President-elect Trump has not made a statement or created any specific policies to which to react. I continue to be concerned that we define specific actions rather than make symbolic statements. Given how divided the U.S. is on the issue of immigration, I can only imagine that any statement related to immigration status and Trinity College would not please everyone. Here at Trinity, we continue to look for those points that unify us as Bantams.
VP: We hope that the students and alumni would see the ethical importance of such a decision. Whatever economic problems the United States faces, it is unlikely to be solved by raids on educational institutions against students. Anti-immigrant sentiment – as most scholarship shows – is largely a political tool and it will not facilitate the necessary economic changes needed in the country. That requires a reasoned discussion over a long term. Thus far, there has be little evidence of such a conversation. What we have instead is fear-mongering. This is dangerous. A liberal arts college must always caution against sloganeering and call for serious dialogue towards solving problems.
TT: What issues or concerns are preventing Trinity from making a decision?
JBS: It is important that we make decisions for Trinity College that are in the best interest of our College and our students. It is not crystal clear at the moment what is in the best interest of Trinity and our students.
TT: This week, Wesleyan’s President Michael Roth declared Wesleyan a sanctuary campus. What do you think of our peer institution’s decision to become a sanctuary campus? Does this have any effect on how Trinity is addressing the issue?
JBS: I am pleased that President Roth has consulted with his board and made a declaration that he considers in the best interest of Wesleyan and Wesleyan’s students. Trinity College is currently discerning those decisions for itself.
VP: We believe Trinity should join this national movement. We hope that students and alumni will see the merits of such a move and join to make the campus as enriching an intellectual and social environment as possible.

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