Green River College’s Board of Trustees wants students and faculty to know the college is a safe and welcoming environment.
The board on March 16 passed a support resolution after receiving a petition signed by more than 1,000 students, faculty, staff and community members asking the trustees to declare the college a sanctuary campus.
While the resolution doesn’t go as far as to make the college a sanctuary, does reaffirms the college’s commitment to serving its students, regardless of their background.
“The college commits to a campus climate and academic experience that protects the security and well-being of all persons, especially those who are underrepresented and struggling for a voice and opportunity,” the resolution states.
Marisela Fleites-Lear a Spanish language professor at the college who helped organize the petition, presented the petition to the Board of Trustees at its February meeting.
“We are asking – we are urging – the college to stand to make the campus a formal sanctuary for those undocumented persons related to our campus,” Fleites-Lear said. “It’s not that we are being a sanctuary for anyone. We can’t do that. … We are hoping to become a sanctuary for those undocumented persons related to our campus, as well as for any Green River Student or worker who feels threatened given their religious beliefs, sexual orientation, disability ethnicity and race.”
Fleites-Lear and student activists began gathering signatures on the petition shortly after the presidential election last November.
“It will send a very clear, strong message to the community, the students, the country and to our international students who are very concerned about some of the issues in our environment, nationally and locally,” she said. “We send a very strong message to bigots saying you have no place in our community.”
It is not enough for the college to declare itself welcoming, Fleites-Lear told the board.
“There are many arguments against the word sanctuary,” she said. “We know there are many fears because there are bills in congress threatening to withhold funds. … We feel we have a mandate given that we have more than 1,000 signatures collected from members of this community, we have a mandate to request the denomination of sanctuary.”
Fleites-Lear offered the alternative language of declaring the college “a social justice committed campus.”
The resolution states the college “is committed to the principles of social justice, nondiscrimination and equal protection of all students.”
Trustee Jackie Boschok said at the Feb. 22 meeting she reviewed the college’s policies to ensure students are being protected.
“My definition of a sanctuary campus is one that puts policies in place to protect undocumented students, which in reality we have those policies already in place for the most part,” Boschok said. “I couldn’t really think of new policies that were needed. It is more about being more vocal in talking about the policies that exist, giving people opportunities to take advantage of them and hopefully some administrative efforts to make sure those policies are really carried out. But, I didn’t really see as a board that we need to implement any new actions.”
Action is needed to continue to uphold what the college is already doing, Fleites-Lear said.
“We are doing things right but the laws might change or the policies might change or the suggestions might change or the threats might change,” she said. “That is why we need a very strong statement that says if the law changes in terms of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or Dreamers Act) we will find ways, we will work to find ways to maintain in-state tuition for those students. We are within the law within the existing law. There are new realities coming up all the time for which we need to be ready.”
The Board of Trustees approved the resolution by a 4-0 vote. Boschok was absent from the March 16 meeting.
Clark reiterated the college’s stance before the vote.
“This is a public institution that serves our community,” he said. “It serves all the members of the community. It is a public investment in our future, and that is our mission and that is what we want to focus on.”
In the past several months, Green River’s Interim President Scott Morgan has worked with staff members to create an immigration resources page on the colleges library website, libguides.greenriver.edu/immigration-refugee.
“For the most part the main bullets that she described are the main bullets that the college will stand up for, things like protecting information, things like not enforcing federal government immigration laws, things like a training and education program, and especially support for students,” Morgan said. “My position on the sanctuary issue is really twofold. I don’t have the authority as the president of the college to declare the college a sanctuary. The second is what we are doing, in my opinion, is within the limits of the law that we are allowed to do. I think if we declare ourselves a sanctuary, it doesn’t give us anymore powers than those that we have set out here and those programs we intend to provide for our campus.”