OP-EDS

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January 26, 2017

Sanctuary Status

UChicago should ignore federal mandates in order to protect undocumented students.

The Diversity Advisory Council (DAC), directly responding to two campus climate surveys, has released an impressively comprehensive report detailing the history of racism and sexism on campus and a list of recommendations the University should follow in order to truly commit itself to diversity. Some of the recommendations include calling on the administration to double the number of underrepresented faculty by 2026, creating a new College Core class centered on race and society, and instituting campus training programs on implicit bias. All of these recommendations are a necessary step forward to make campus a more inclusive and welcoming environment. The University should take them seriously enough to implement.

While there are many different recommendations to focus on, one intriguing and especially relevant one deals with the status of undocumented students on campus. The DAC initially calls on the University to broaden its definition of diversity to include undocumented students and recommends that the administration do anything in their power to protect this marginalized group, even if it means going against the mandates of the federal government. However, this recommendation should go one step further: the University of Chicago should label itself as a “sanctuary campus,” or a university that commits itself to protecting undocumented immigrants.

A 2012 executive order known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protects undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. President Donald Trump has vowed to overturn the order, which could possibly lead to the deportation of thousands of students across the nation. University President Robert Zimmer was one of 300 college presidents who signed a statement last November supporting DACA. However, simply supporting DACA is not enough. If or when the order is voided, students need to be sure that their administration will not comply with federal immigration authorities.

Currently, the University has not explicitly said whether they will go against federal law in order to protect their undocumented students, only saying that it is “examin[ing] how potential changes to immigration policies could affect our university and the community.” 

Calling the University of Chicago a “sanctuary campus” is even consistent with the administration's values. Although the 1967 Kalven Report states the administration must remain neutral on all political issues, this would not be a political decision. Rather, it is a decision to ensure that there remains a “diversity of viewpoints,” and that no person is discriminated against. 

“From time to time instances will arise in which society, or segments of it, threaten the very mission of the university and its values of free inquiry,” reads the Kalven Report. “In such a crisis, it becomes the obligation of the university as an institution to oppose such measures and actively to defend its interests and values.” 

Such a crisis has the potential to arise if DACA is overturned. To commit to diversity and to the principles of free speech outlined in the Kalven Report, the administration needs to ensure that all students with all types of backgrounds have the opportunity to participate in this university. If the University cannot commit to protecting its undocumented students from deportation, then it cannot commit to diversity.

Sarah Zimmerman is a fourth-year in the College majoring in English and a Viewpoints editor.

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