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Support of Undocumented Students Gains Momentum After Election

By Marella A. Gayla, Crimson Staff Writer

Donald Trump’s victory and the prospect of a fiercely anti-immigrant administration in the White House has mobilized more than 4,000 people to sign a petition calling upon Harvard’s administration to protect the University’s undocumented students.

Demanding that Harvard hire new staff and implement several other “concrete actions,” student organizers are planning to deliver the petition to administrators on Monday afternoon against the backdrop of a rally on the steps of Widener Library.

Trump’s unexpected win over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—fueled in part by nationalist appeal and the promise to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico—sent shockwaves through Harvard’s campus, provoking a particularly strong reaction from students of color who fear they will be disproportionately targeted by his policies. Many of the roughly 40 undocumented students at the College expressed fear of deportation under a Trump administration.

The petition calls for immediate action, citing Harvard’s commitment to diversity and Trump’s threats to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which confers legal presence, a Social Security number, and a work permit to many of Harvard’s undocumented students.

Of the petition’s seven demands, the first is the immediate hiring of a new Assistant Dean of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion to replace Emelyn A. dela Peña, who left Harvard last month. Other requests include the creation of an office to support undocumented students.

“We do not need words of comfort, your pity, or your sympathy,” the petition reads. “We need action that demonstrates this University’s dedication to concretely support all of its students, regardless of their immigration status.”

Several students in Spanish 126: “Performing Latinidad,” taught by assistant professor Lorgia H. Garcia Peña, authored the petition and are organizing Monday’s protest. The class, which focuses on Latino identity in film, art, and literature, incorporates performance art into its curriculum.

This will not be the first demonstration to come from the class. Last week, just prior to Election Day Nov. 8, students in the class carried a casket around the Yard, set up fake “polling stations,” and bashed a piñata emblazoned with Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again.” The performances were designed by students in collaboration with Dominican performance artist Josefina Báez. Spanish 126 student and protest organizer Anastacia Valdespino ’18 said Monday’s protest will likely be more direct and “political in nature.”

“There have been so many big rallies across the country at universities, with people protesting Trump’s win, and it’s been kind of disappointing that our campus hasn’t had one of those,” Valdespino said. “We are doing this specific demonstration [for undocumented students] because it’s more tangible, and not just a symbolic response.”

Mario George ’18 said the students in Spanish 126 were particularly moved to demonstrate because of “the number of students who would be affected by the election results.”

“We divided into different roles, like writing the petition and planning the programming for the demonstration,” George said. “The protest is meant to rally people around in solidarity with undocumented students, who feel a sense of fear given the election results, who have a sense of complete uncertainty about what their futures will look like.”

Enrique Ramirez ’17, an undocumented student and board member of student immigration advocacy group Act on a Dream, said he hopes Monday’s protest is “educational.”

“The first aim is to make sure that people are aware that there are undocumented students at Harvard,” Ramirez said. “I think seeing Harvard students and hearing about their experiences will be really powerful.

Daishi M. Tanaka ’19, an undocumented student and advocacy chair for Act on a Dream, said he is “optimistic” about administrators’ support for undocumented students after meeting with Dean of Students Katherine G. O’Dair and Director of Diversity and Inclusion Programs Loc Truong.

“There is public support that will be demonstrated, and the protest will be necessary,” Tanaka said. “Hopefully, as the undocumented students channel their voices and their opinions about what solution works best, they can communicate with administrators to form solutions.”

Dean of Students Katherine G. O’Dair wrote in an email, “The Office of Student Life is committed to supporting undocumented students, many of whom have expressed fear and anxiety over what might happen with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).”

The petition has collected the endorsement of three academic programs: Romance Languages and Literatures, the Committee on Degrees in Ethnicity and Migration Rights, and Women and Gender Studies. Several members of the Committee on Degrees in History and Literature signed the petition, although the committee did not endorse it collectively.

Sergio Delgado, a professor in Romance Languages and Literatures, circulated the petition among students and colleagues and urged them to sign it. Delgado, himself an immigrant, said he thought it was important to “hold the institution accountable.”

“So far, this hasn’t been an issue that resonates with as much urgency as it should, and I think that’s changing,” Delgado said.

—Staff writer Marella A. Gayla can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @marellagayla.

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