A petition to make Wayne State a sanctuary campus has been gaining momentum. Over 1,500 faculty members, staff and students have joined the efforts in making WSU safe for undocumented students.
A sanctuary campus implements policies to protect undocumented immigrant students.
Some of the policies that would be integrated if WSU becomes a sanctuary campus are: not allowing Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers onto campus without a warrant, not gathering information on citizenship statuses of students and providing distance-learning options for deported students to complete their degrees.
The movement was initiated by WSU alumna Vibha Venkatesha. She said she was inspired after seeing the online movement “Movimiento Cosecha,” a movement working to protect undocumented immigrants in the country through student efforts on their respective campus.
“I wanted to speak out and do something in whatever way that I could, starting with our campus which has many immigrant and international students, both documented and not,” said Venkatesha.
On Feb. 7, President Wilson released a statement regarding WSU becoming a sanctuary campus. In it, he said he previously declared WSU’s support for international and undocumented students in a campus email on Dec. 6, 2016.
However, he said declaring WSU as a Sanctuary Campus would provide no additional benefits and the “highly politicized” issue may “generate unnecessary political and financial risk.”
“To date, although many colleges, universities and university systems offer protections similar to ours, we have been able to identify only a dozen or so — none in Michigan — that have actually self-designated as a “sanctuary campus,” mostly small private colleges,” Wilson said in the statement.
“While we will continue to do everything possible to protect our students and faculty and provide a safe and secure academic environment, I agree with the overwhelming majority of my fellow presidents and chancellors from universities throughout the nation that there is no need to adopt this ill-defined and politically charged designation.”
Wilson said he has not been presented the formal petition, but was able to view it online. He said the petition speaks well of the commitment of WSU students, but he and the Board of Governors have a fiduciary responsibility to protect WSU from unnecessary risks.
“We’re building upon a nationwide movement of universities that have made bold declarations to protect DACA students and undocumented immigrant students,” said Nathan Kuehnl, a graduate teaching assistant in the Department of History.
Nathan Kuehnl is among one of the many people working on this initiative. He works alongside student organizations such as Students Organizing for Syria, Students for Justice in Palestine, Amnesty International and By Any Means Necessary.
“I want to stress that whatever work we’re doing with the petition, it’s built on the foundation that these students constructed before us,” said Kuehnl. “They’re the ones organizing rallies, speaking about their experiences and working hard to create an inclusive and supporting community here at Wayne State.”
Amal Rass, a sophomore and co-founder of SOS believes all students should sign this petition because it will have a positive impact on WSU.
“This initiative will make us more welcoming and supportive, and will help make our fellow students feel safe at this university,” said Rass.
“For students that are watching recent events unfold and wondering what they can do, this is a small, easy and quick, but concrete, action they can take that sends a message to the administration about what is important to them as students,” said Venkatesha.