70 Arrested as Students at Ohio University Take a Stand by Sitting Down

As Trump’s frightful campaign promises become law, students at Ohio University demand their school become a “sanctuary campus.”

Carlos Ballesteros February 3, 2017

Shortly after the arrests, administrators released a statement condemning the action for disrupting university operations. (Photo credit: Tess Hickey)

Days after Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s order ban­ning refugees and immi­grants from sev­er­al Mus­lim coun­tries effec­tive­ly strand­ed more than 17,000 stu­dents who hail from the sev­en black­list­ed nations, some 70 pro­test­ers were arrest­ed at Ohio Uni­ver­si­ty for hold­ing a sit-in to demand their school declare itself a sanc­tu­ary cam­pus.” Like a sanc­tu­ary city,” sanc­tu­ary cam­pus does not have a legal def­i­n­i­tion but is used to describe a school that aims to pro­tect its undoc­u­ment­ed and immi­grant stu­dents from depor­ta­tion and persecution.

'We need the university to take a strong position against fascism and racism—that means becoming a sanctuary campus.'

The sit-in hap­pened Wednes­day night after hun­dreds of peo­ple marched to Bak­er Uni­ver­si­ty Cen­ter, a pop­u­lar cam­pus hub. Upon arrival, pro­tes­tors took over the fourth and fifth floors of the build­ing and announced they would not leave until Ohio Uni­ver­si­ty met their demands that the uni­ver­si­ty com­mit to not share stu­dents’ immi­gra­tion sta­tus with law enforce­ment, not allow Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforce­ment (ICE) offi­cers on cam­pus, pro­tect undoc­u­ment­ed stu­dents from depor­ta­tion and pro­vide dis­tance learn­ing options for deport­ed stu­dents.” In total, more than 70 peo­ple were arrest­ed for refus­ing to dis­perse and charged with crim­i­nal trespassing.

Short­ly after the arrests, admin­is­tra­tors released a state­ment con­demn­ing the action for dis­rupt­ing uni­ver­si­ty oper­a­tions. Mean­while, the Ohio Uni­ver­si­ty stu­dent sen­ate passed a bill ask­ing that the uni­ver­si­ty be des­ig­nat­ed a sanc­tu­ary campus.

The demon­stra­tion occurred just days after out­go­ing Ohio Uni­ver­si­ty pres­i­dent Rod­er­ick J. McDavis issued a state­ment on Trump’s ban, say­ing that he shares the increas­ing con­cerns from many mem­bers of the Ohio Uni­ver­si­ty com­mu­ni­ty” over the exec­u­tive order. He wrote that the uni­ver­si­ty is com­mit­ted to admit­ting stu­dents and recruit­ing fac­ul­ty in a man­ner con­sis­tent with the tenets we hold true, and we are com­mit­ted to fos­ter­ing an envi­ron­ment that pre­pares them for suc­cess as glob­al citizens.”

But for many stu­dents, includ­ing Bob­by Walk­er, a senior at Ohio Uni­ver­si­ty and one of the orga­niz­ers of Wednes­day’s protest, McDavis’ state­ment wasn’t near­ly force­ful enough.

He isn’t even brave enough to say that the exec­u­tive order is not in line with the uni­ver­si­ty’s ideals,” she says. We need the uni­ver­si­ty to take a strong posi­tion against fas­cism and racism — that means becom­ing a sanc­tu­ary campus.”

The move­ment for sanc­tu­ary cam­pus­es explod­ed after the elec­tion. Admin­is­tra­tors at Pomona Col­lege, in Clare­mont, Cal­i­for­nia, pub­lished a state­ment in sup­port of DACA (Deferred Action for Child­hood Arrivals) stu­dents in Novem­ber, say­ing that it is a both a moral imper­a­tive and a nation­al neces­si­ty” to pro­vide the oppor­tu­ni­ty for all our stu­dents to pur­sue their learn­ing and life goals.” As of Fri­day, more than 600 col­lege and uni­ver­si­ty pres­i­dents, includ­ing McDavis, have co-signed that statement.

How­ev­er, as report­ed in the New York Times, schools have had dif­fer­ing ideas about what [pro­vid­ing sanc­tu­ary] would mean in prac­tice.” Some pre­dom­i­nant­ly lib­er­al insti­tu­tions have offered free legal ser­vices for their undoc­u­ment­ed and immi­grant stu­dents, pro­hib­it­ed immi­gra­tion agents from step­ping on cam­pus with­out a war­rant and stat­ed that they will not vol­un­tar­i­ly assist any efforts by fed­er­al author­i­ties to deport stu­dents. In con­trast, oth­er more con­ser­v­a­tive-lean­ing insti­tu­tions, like the Uni­ver­si­ty Sys­tem of Geor­gia, have reject­ed the idea of sanc­tu­ary cam­pus­es on the basis of that it encour­ages insti­tu­tions and employ­ees to break the law.

Ohio University’s posi­tion is unclear. Its pub­lic state­ments indi­cate that it is, at the very least, con­cerned about Trump’s new immi­gra­tion pro­to­cols. Yet, as report­ed by the Athens News, Ohio Uni­ver­si­ty has not tak­en a clear stance on whether or not the uni­ver­si­ty and its police depart­ment will decline to work with fed­er­al immi­gra­tion offi­cials unless they are forced to by law.” For Walk­er, that ambi­gu­i­ty is unacceptable.

We want our uni­ver­si­ty admin­is­tra­tors to stand firm­ly against racism and Islam­o­pho­bia,” she said. There are peo­ple here pre­pared to fight until that happens.”

Car­los Balles­teros is a free­lance writer based in Chica­go. He was born and raised in the South Side and recent­ly grad­u­at­ed from Clare­mont McKen­na Col­lege with a B.A. in History.
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