Sanctuary Coalition Rebuts Sterk’s and Nair’s Response

The Emory Sanctuary Coalition called University President Claire E. Sterk’s refusal to declare Emory a “sanctuary campus” as a “lack of courageous leadership” Feb. 7 in the latest of a series of back-and-forth statements between the Coalition and University administration.

The Coalition, which has repeatedly called for a “sanctuary campus” label over the past month, issued a point-by-point rebuttal of the statements released by Sterk Feb. 6 and by Senior Vice President and Dean of Campus Life Ajay Nair and Interim Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Stuart Zola Jan. 18.

In her Feb. 6 statement, Sterk reaffirmed her refusal to adopt the “sanctuary” label. The Coalition responded that a formal designation would potentially have both positive and negative effects but “courage and leadership [from administration] in social justice issues can come at some risk, but no more risk than our current and future undocumented students face at the discretion of a federal government that has promised to deport all undocumented immigrants in the country.”

The Coalition also took fault with the perceived lack of action from Sterk regarding the protection of undocumented students. Sterk claimed to support the protection of undocumented students without declaring Emory a “sanctuary campus,” a position the Coalition said “amounts to saying much but doing little.” While Sterk said she disagrees with the Coalition “on what measures should be taken,” she recognized that both parties are invested in the protection of Emory’s undocumented students.

The Coalition said the “sanctuary” designation would demonstrate that Emory’s campus is a safe space for undocumented students and that the University is committed to protecting them. In contrast, Sterk and Nair both argued in their individual statements that the label would be disadvantageous to the University, placing undocumented students at risk

The administrators’ responses came days prior to a Coalition-organized demonstration during Sterk’s presidential inauguration in support of the “sanctuary campus” movement. Additionally, 221 University faculty members signed a petition delivered to Sterk Feb. 1 requesting the University adopt the designation.

Sterk met late last semester with about half of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students the administration knows of at Emory, and the majority requested she refuse the designation to avoid drawing unnecessary attention to the undocumented community at Emory, Sterk said in a Jan. 18 interview with the Wheel.

Former U.S. President Barack Obama created the DACA program, which confers temporary immigration benefits on some undocumented individuals that protects them from deportation and allows them to work in the United States. President Donald J. Trump vowed to repeal the order during his campaign but has not yet revised or rescinded the program.

Coalition member and College freshman Ashley Rivas-Triana said she acknowledges the initiatives the University administration has taken so far in meeting the Coalition’s demands, but urges the University to embrace the “sanctuary campus” label.

“We strongly believe that the term ‘sanctuary’ shows to the Emory community, the state and the nation that Emory has principles [and] will refuse to support the marginalization of persecuted minority communities,” Rivas-Triana said.

The Coalition also called on Sterk to “make history right now” by committing to the University’s principles of ethical engagement, courageous inquiry and knowledge in the service of humanity.

The group published three demands for the University Jan. 31, detailing actions it believed the University must meet to fully stand with and protect undocumented students at Emory. The demands called Emory to promise lawful non-cooperation with federal immigration authorities; provide need-based financial aid to undocumented students regardless of their DACA status; and issue “full support” of its undocumented students and students from mixed-status families.

“The administration has been ignoring the heart of our demand of declaring a ‘sanctuary campus’ and being a courageous leader in higher education,” Coalition member and Freedom University Georgia Executive Director Emiko Soltis (12G) said.

According to Rivas-Triana, the Coalition intends to continue to build support for a “sanctuary” label among Emory students and faculty to prove to University administration that further action should be taken to protect undocumented students.

Sterk and Nair did not respond to request for comment as of press time.

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