University President Drew G. Faust said Harvard will not designate itself a “sanctuary campus” at a Faculty of Arts and Sciences meeting held Tuesday afternoon in the Science Center.
Faust said she is worried calling Harvard a "sanctuary campus," a term she argued has no legal significance, could actually further endanger undocumented students at Harvard. She said she has met with members of Congress and other federal officials to discuss protections for undocumented students .
"It also risks drawing special attention to the students in ways that could put their status in greater jeopardy," Faust said. "I believe it would endanger, rather than protect, our students, and that is not something I am willing for this institution to do."
Faust spoke on the subject in response to questions history professor Walter Johnson raised during the meeting. He asked what steps the University will take to protect its undocumented students and other minority groups he said are threatened by President-elect Donald Trump’s proposed policies.
Johnson urged Faust to support labeling Harvard a sanctuary campus, citing the University’s global prominence and insisting the decision presented an opportunity for Harvard to demonstrate moral leadership.
“Given the importance of the word ‘sanctuary’ in the national discussion, the opportunity that Harvard has to take up moral leadership in that discussion, and the immense importance of the word to our students, [most] specifically to their sense that the University is willing to stand... by their side, why not use it,” Johnson said.
In her response, Faust noted initiatives the University has undertaken to support undocumented students in recent weeks, including hosting immigration experts and appointing Lars Madsen, Faust’s chief of staff, as a coordinator for advising efforts for undocumented students. Last month, Faust, in an email to Harvard affiliates, reiterated a message from Harvard University Police Department Chief Francis D. Riley indicating that the department will not ask about the immigration status of Harvard affiliates or enforce federal immigration laws.
At the meeting, Faust also discussed how the University would continue to lobby for federal research funding and a tax-exempt endowment under the Trump administration. She rejected the idea of sanctuary campus status, however, arguing that the name lacks a clear definition.
"Sanctuary campus status has no legal significance or even clear definition. It offers no actual protection to our students. I worry that in fact it offers false and misleading assurance," Faust said.
Faust’s statements came just minutes after students and faculty wrapped up a rally held in support of Johnson’s motion outside the building. Roughly 100 Harvard affiliates gathered in the Science Center Plaza to urge administrators to designate Harvard a sanctuary campus.
“I’m here to be a witness to your patriotism and to your love of this university,” Johnson said at the rally. “And I’m here to ask this nation and this university to fulfill the promise that you all represent.”
“Let America be America again,” he added, referencing both Trump’s famed campaign slogan and a poem by Langston Hughes that celebrates America’s immigrant history and diverse population.
Over the course of the hour-long rally, speakers from across campus—ranging from Harvard freshmen to tenured professors—discussed the pain and fear they said undocumented students have felt in the wake of the election.
Romance Languages and Literature associate professor Sergio Delgado said at the rally that designating Harvard a sanctuary campus would allow the University’s undocumented population to “thrive” again.
“When we as faculty and when we as administrators admit these students as our students, we make a fundamental commitment to support these students so that they can thrive,” Delgado said to cheers. “And whenever we fail at that commitment we’re not just failing those students, we’re failing this institution and we’re failing ourselves.”
Daishi Tanaka ’19, an undocumented student, echoed Delgado’s sentiments. He said his life on campus has “definitely” changed for the worse since Trump won the presidency, and that the idea of a sanctuary campus is “personally important” to him because it would grant him a “mental security” he now lacks.
As Delgado and others wrapped up their speeches and the assembled crowd chanted slogans like “No justice, no peace!”, Faculty of Arts and Sciences professors began to file into the Science Center ahead of the Faculty-wide meeting. Some stopped to listen, others hurried past.
Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana paused for a moment to watch the protesters before entering the building.
“We are committed to making an inclusive environment for our students,” he said. “We are looking forward to working with our students, and have been working with our students.”
As the rally neared its conclusion, Anastacia M. Valdespino ’18, one of the event’s organizers, grabbed the microphone and eyed the stream of professors entering the Science Center.
“I’ve seen multiple professors, some whom I’ve had, walking into the Science Center for their meeting,” she said. “We hope they know that Harvard needs to be a sanctuary campus.”
Faust’s decision not to name Harvard a sanctuary campus comes less than a month after Princeton University President Chris Eisgruber and Brown University President Christina Paxson both declined to adopt the label. The University of Pennsylvania remains the only Ivy League school to designate itself a sanctuary campus.
—Staff writer Hannah Natanson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @hannah_natanson.