Editorial Board

Syracuse University should host panel to help students understand complexity of sanctuary campus movement

Coming off one of the most politically invigorating weekends since the election of President Donald Trump, it is understandable that students at Syracuse University may feel inspired to enact change on campus by calling for Chancellor Kent Syverud to declare SU a sanctuary campus.

But it is important for these students to recognize the financial limitations of becoming a sanctuary campus, and why it may not be possible from a federal aid standpoint for SU to protect its undocumented students to the furthest extent. To ensure students understand the complexity of having sanctuary campus status, SU should consider holding a panel to explain the implications and consequences of obstructing cooperation with the new administration in pursuit of its immigration policies.

Syverud has declined to name SU a sanctuary campus, but said he has asked the University Senate and university experts to investigate Trump’s immigration policies. Syverud has also hinted that SU will not allow the nature the administration’s immigration rhetoric to influence its own values.

Syverud demonstrated this willingness to maintain SU’s values and speak up against Trump’s rhetoric when he signed a petition that circulated among higher education institutions to support the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, an immigration policy established under former President Barack Obama that permits students who immigrated illegally to remain in the United States by enrolling in school.

But if Syverud took further action to reject the potential immigration policies by the Trump administration by declaring SU a sanctuary campus, he’d risk the loss of federal funding that ensures the survival of SU and all colleges and universities in the country, whether they’re public or private. Even private schools require federal dollars to fund their students’ educations, and it would be a threat to SU’s livelihood to potentially forfeit this funding by obstructing the agenda of the federal government. Also, despite being a private university, SU is still subject to federal laws, and cannot take actions that conflict with state or federal mandates.

While the sentiments and protests of students who hope to see SU become a sanctuary campus are admirable and warranted, students must have a balanced perspective of the sanctuary campus movement. Being conscious of the financial implications of becoming a sanctuary campus is especially important for university leaders, including representatives of SU’s Student Association, who will vote Monday evening on a bill of support for SU declaring itself a sanctuary campus.

SU could help provide context to students’ understanding of the sanctuary campus movement by holding a panel similar to one at the University of Notre Dame, an SU peer institution, which on Wednesday hosted a “Exploring Sanctuary: Hopes and Realities” panel to address “the possibilities and limitations of sanctuary as a model for protecting vulnerable populations,” according to Notre Dame’s website.

A panel composed of a higher education expert and a university administrator, along with others, could help students understand what they’re really asking logistically for when they ask for a sanctuary campus.

This nuanced perspective is important as we move forward into Trump’s presidency. And although a sanctuary campus may be an unrealistic request to ask of the SU administration, Syverud should maintain the university’s values and, on behalf of SU, demonstrate his support for undocumented students on this campus.

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