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UNC faculty meeting discusses possibility of 'sanctuary university' for undocumented students

Third year Almas Islas conducts an exercise meant to give students examples of the experiences of undocumented youth Saturday afternoon in the Campus Y.
Third year Almas Islas conducts an exercise meant to give students examples of the experiences of undocumented youth Saturday afternoon in the Campus Y.

Julia Mack, a Spanish professor and an event organizer, said she thought only four people would show up to the event: the professors who organized it.

“It’s not in the numbers that you count the support — it’s in commitment and heart and spirit,” she said.

The group discussed asking the administration to reaffirm its anti-discrimination policy and releasing a statement saying UNC should become a sanctuary university in the future.

“The reason why almost everybody who was here was here was because this is personal,” Mack said. “This is family. This reaches where I keep my heart and so you don’t turn your back on someone who calls for help when they’re somebody that close.”

Mariá DeGuzmán, director of Latino/a Studies and another organizer, said House Bill 318 — a North Carolina bill signed by Governor Pat McCrory in October 2015 that outlawed sanctuary cities — does not directly prohibit sanctuary universities.

“Whether (University administrators) do that or not is a totally different question, but as you all know, the desire of the people is something that gets recorded and spread around and it has more than symbolic weight ... because laws are made and unmade,” DeGuzmán said.

Federico Luisetti, chairperson of the Department of Romance Studies, said he sent an email reaffirming his department’s commitment to anti-discrimination to the chairpersons and the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences two days ago — and has yet to receive a reply.

He said UNC has an anti-discrimination policy, which prohibits discrimination based on national origin, among other characteristics.

“I can’t imagine this University not reaffirming its own anti-discrimination policy,” Luisetti said. “You don’t have to affirm something revolutionary or anything.”

Mack said she sent an email to the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, the Chancellor, the Provost and the Board of Trustees asking them to reaffirm the policy, and encouraged others in the room to follow suit.

Meeting attendees discussed safe spaces for undocumented students and the possibility of allies wearing physical markers — such as safety pins, which were a sign that a person identified as an ally to vulnerable populations in Great Britain after the country voted to leave the European Union in June 2016.

Alejandro Escalante, a religious studies doctoral student, said he attended the meeting because the topic hits close to home for him.

“I have friends who are undocumented here at this University, and the sort of scaremongering that’s happened since Nov. 9 has really impacted them and their anxiety levels,” he said.

“I think any person who’s been watching the news or reading the newspaper has seen the impact of this election on families who are in fear of being separated, children who are in fear that they will go home and their parents won’t be there. I think that this is not just a political issue — it’s something that impacts real people and real lives.”


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