Hundreds of students walked out of their classes and gathered in front of Olin Center yesterday at 2:30 p.m. as part of a nationwide walkout on college campuses in an effort to push the university to designate its campuses as “sanctuary campuses,” which would protect and support undocumented Tufts students and community members in these spaces.
The walkout was planned and led by Tufts United for Immigrant Justice (UIJ), a student group which promotes “equality for all humans irrespective of immigration status, gender, sexuality, economic status, race or other forms of oppression,” according to the group’s Facebook page.
UIJ members spoke before the crowd outside of Olin Center, relaying personal stories of fear and hope in light of President-elect Donald Trump’s election as well as presenting University President Anthony Monaco with a petition asking that Tufts be designated a “sanctuary campus,” which has been signed by 2,693 students, faculty and community members at press time.
According to the petition, designating Tufts’ campuses as “sanctuary campuses” would make all lands or structures owned or operated by the university a secure place for undocumented people; require Tufts to promise not to release information about undocumented students and community members, as well as to refuse to cooperate with immigration authorities seeking to conduct raids; require the university to offer immigration legal services to assist students and community members; and stipulate that the university establish an Office for Undocumented Student Support.
The petition also states that making Tufts a “sanctuary campus” would be a concrete action supporting the university’s proclaimed values.
“This threat to undocumented community members requires a concrete and tangible response from the University—not just words or symbolic gestures,” the petition reads. “Tufts is in a unique position to protect its undocumented community members from law enforcement. It is the duty of this University to ensure that it remains a place that actively protects the rights and safety of its community.”
Students gathered in the face of possible changes to federal immigration law and policy in the wake of last Tuesday’s election results, specifically Trump’s promise to overturn Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA), an executive order passed by President Barack Obama granting two-year work permits and deportation exemptions to immigrants who came to the United States before turning 16 years old.
Tufts undergraduate body has at least 12 undocumented or DACA students in the first-year class alone, according to the Undergraduate Profile of the Class of 2020.
Monaco attended the walk-out as well and was given a megaphone to read an official statement from the university in response to UIJ’s request, in which he reaffirmed Tufts’ commitment to protecting undocumented students but made no solid commitment to making Tufts a sanctuary campus.
“Tufts is committed to continuing our support of DACA and undocumented students,” he said. “We are therefore exploring what it would mean to declare Tufts a ‘sanctuary campus’ — and what the implications of that decision might be for our DACA and undocumented students and the university as a whole.”
UIJ member Emma Kahn told the Daily that the organization was disappointed in Monaco’s lack of commitment, but remained optimistic about working with the administration in the future.
“We were wondering if he was going to commit to that today, and we were feeling really hopeful about what that would have meant, so we’re really disappointed that Tufts wasn’t able to make that commitment today,” Kahn, a junior, said. “But we’re still really energized by Tufts continuing to work on this, and we’re excited to work with them.”
Ben Kaplan, president of Tufts Democrats, was optimistic that the university would respond to the student demonstration accordingly.
“I’m confident that when the university sees the broad base of support for UIJ‘s demands, they will act to fulfill these demands,” Kaplan, a senior, said.
Monaco also reassured attendees that the policy the university adopted in spring of 2015, which stipulates that Tufts will accept and provide aid to undocumented students as they would domestic applicants, would remain unchanged.
Some professors modified their class scheduling to accommodate students interested in participating in the walk out, including Sociology Professor Paul Joseph, who ended his Globalization and Social Change lecture at 2:30 p.m.
“I was responding to a request from a couple [of] students in the class that really wanted to go,” Joseph said. “I said students are free to go to the rally, but I also said students should make their own choice.”
Rabbi Jordan Braunig, director of Tufts Hillel Center’s Initiative for Innovative Community Building, said that he came to the rally to support the Tufts community.
“I feel like everyone’s feeling anxious in this moment, and [we need] to be sure that students who are undocumented know that there’s a whole campus in solidarity with them,” Braunig said. “It’s just the most important thing that we can be doing right now.”
Many students also said that the gathering was an occasion to protest Trump in general and in particular his proposed immigration and deportation policies.
Junior Nicky Carne, who attended the walk-out, said that the demonstration was as much a showing of solidarity for undocumented students as it was a political statement.
“I have two friends who study here who are undocumented … people who woke up that morning [Nov. 9] and had just been told by their country that they didn’t matter, and that no one was going to be there for them,” she said. “The fact that this is happening at other universities around the nation is so huge, and it feels really good to be out here.”
Kaplan echoed that sentiment, saying that student demonstration was an effective way to send the President-elect a message.
“If we as a community can stand with undocumented immigrants, then we can show the Trump administration that we are serious about organizing and resisting his ultra-conservative agenda,” Kaplan said.