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.
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.”