One week after Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, students at Ithaca College have joined a growing list of student communities that have signed petitions and staged demonstrations, calling on their institutions to declare themselves “sanctuary campuses” and pledge to limit their cooperation with federal immigration enforcement.
At 3 p.m. Nov. 16, about 100 campus community members walked out of classes and gathered at the Free Speech Rock to support the “sanctuary campus” movement, a push for college campuses to protect and support undocumented immigrants.
Sophomores Hannah Titlebaum and Sunce Franicevic and senior Sara del Aguila organized the “IC Not My President Walkout.” Titlebaum said they wanted to channel their anger and sadness over the election into action.
“Shy of being upset, we realized that we wanted to do something,” Titlebaum said. “There’s a lot of people who are starting to get beyond the sadness and are now wanting to know ‘what is something I can do right now to help.’”
With this rally, the college became one of 80 campuses nationwide to stage demonstrations in support of the movement during a “day of action” created by the organization Movimiento Cosecha, which fights for the protection of immigrants, Franicevic said. She also said they registered the college as one of the campuses participating in the event.
The rally began with the organizer’s chanting “Education, not deportation,” to the crowd.
Titlebaum then explained Trump’s statement that he wants to repeal the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), a program that has allowed more than 700,000 immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children without documentation to obtain temporary relief from deportation and receive rights to work.
“Students, undocumented staff, people working in your hometown, people working here. These people are here and they are doing good things,” Titlebaum said during the rally.
They then asked students at the rally to join them in petitioning the administration to create a written policy advocating for the rights of undocumented students by adopting demands such as: refusing to share voluntary information with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP); refusing to grant ICE access to college-owned land; prohibiting college security from asking about a student’s immigration status; prohibiting housing discrimination based on immigration status; and supporting the DACA program, among others.
By the end of the event, 100 students had signed the petition while chanting, “Show me what democracy looks like, this is what democracy looks like.”
Freshman August Miguez said a friend invited them to the Facebook event, and they came to show support.
“I’m against Trump for a number of reasons but … [undocumented] students are some of our most valuable students that carry a lot of different experiences, and also we shouldn’t be taking away their education just because of where they come from,” they said.
On the other hand, freshman Emma Gutchess said though she does not agree with Trump’s stance on deportation, she does think there needs to be restrictions on undocumented students when it comes to in-state tuition.
“I think that the country kind of does have an immigration problem,” she said. “I don’t agree that because you’re in this state you get the right to in-state tuition. I’m not saying they don’t deserve to be educated … but I don’t think I support the fact that because they’re illegal immigrants … they deserve the same rights as all American citizens.”
Rebecca Lesses, associate professor and coordinator in the Jewish studies program, also supported the event and helped the organizers circulate the petition. She said she was impressed by the students’ action.
“I like seeing student activism,” Lesses said. “I think it’s a good, positive, energetic political response for people who oppose the policies of the incoming administration, not to just get depressed and feel apathetic, but actually to organize and try to do things positively.”
In addition to the petition at the rally, another one is circulating on social media and has collected over 125 Ithaca College student and faculty member signatures. It asks President Tom Rochon about how the college intends to “provid[e] for the safety and security of students, faculty, and staff who may lose legal protections for their immigration status or face other serious problems.”
“We suggest that the College declare itself a ‘sanctuary center of higher education’ committed to protecting the members of its community from unfair deportation, investigation, or other intimidation,” the petition states.
The students have joined public and private institutions including Harvard, Yale, Brown, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Pomona College in circulating petitions, urging their administrations to take steps to make their institutions “sanctuary campuses.”
Senior Will Suchanek, who signed the petition, said he thinks it’s important to make the college a hate-free space for students to learn.
“If someone has to deal with the repercussions by any of those scenarios, it would be a hindrance to their education, and they’re already investing so much time and money into an education here at Ithaca that any outside factors causing your grades to not be the best they could be makes for an unfair learning experience for that individual,” he said.
Victor Silverman, professor in the Department of History at Pomona College in California, said he created a petition with a colleague to ensure that no matter what legislation will be passed under a new president, students will remain safe.
Silverman said trying to pinpoint what actions Pomona College or other colleges will take to try to make their campuses sanctuaries is difficult at the moment, but instead, he and other organizers have been creating “a list of principles” to stand by.
“It’s a really important step to say to the community around us and to ourselves that we’re going to take a stand and do something,” Silverman said.
Franicevic and Titlebaum both expanded on this during the rally and told students that there would be more protests and walkouts in the future.
“We are hoping that this will get things moving and the discussion can start,” Titlebaum said. “This is only the first thing.”
Staff Writer Meghan McElroy and Contributing Writer Samantha Mendiguren contributed reporting.