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Over 350 Faculty Members Urge Support for Undocumented Students

More than 100 supporters gather on the steps of Widener Library to advocate for the defense of undocumented students at Harvard.
More than 100 supporters gather on the steps of Widener Library to advocate for the defense of undocumented students at Harvard.
By Mia C. Karr, Crimson Staff Writer

More than 350 faculty members signed a letter Wednesday urging University President Drew G. Faust and other Harvard administrators to protect undocumented students in the wake of Donald Trump’s election as president of the United States.

The letter—published in The Crimson and co-authored by Fine Arts and African and African American Studies Professor Suzanne P. Blier, English Professor Stephen L. Burt ’93, and History and African and African American Studies Professor Walter Johnson—argues that the University has an obligation to protect students to the best of its ability and uphold its stated ideals of diversity.

More than 100 supporters gather on the steps of Widener Library Monday to advocate for the defense of undocumented students at Harvard.
More than 100 supporters gather on the steps of Widener Library Monday to advocate for the defense of undocumented students at Harvard. By Thomas W. Franck

In the letter, the professors list six actions for administrators to take, including designating Harvard a sanctuary campus and refusing to release information regarding citizenship status.

The letter was written in response to student-organized efforts to champion undocumented students after Trump’s election, which has prompted concern about protections for undocumented students on campus and nationwide. More than 4,000 people have signed a petition urging Harvard to take action, and on Monday supporters gathered on the steps of Widener Library for a rally. At the rally, undocumented students spoke about their experiences and attendees marched to University Hall to deliver the petition to Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana.

Blier said she was struck by a need to “say something” in response to the mobilization of support for undocumented students, and she and Johnson decided to collaborate on a letter. Burt joined the effort later.

“I think a lot of faculty are concerned with the situation, and feel it’s important in terms of protecting students and faculty and addressing the situation here at home,” Blier said.

According to Blier, the three professors wrote the letter before various administrators emailed messages that responded to some concerns raised in the petition. On Tuesday, University President Drew G. Faust sent an email to students, faculty, and staff that did not explicitly mention undocumented students, but affirmed Harvard’s commitment to protecting its students more broadly.

“We have an obligation to provide all members of our community with an environment in which they can live in safety and dignity,” Faust wrote. In the past, Faust has met with elected officials to lobby for more protections for undocumented university students.

On Wednesday, Dean of Students Katherine G. O’Dair sent an email to College students addressing some of the concerns raised in the petition and letter. She wrote that Loc Truong, the Director of Diversity and Inclusion Programs for the Office for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, has been working to identify resources for undocumented students and has met with members of Act on a Dream, a student immigration advocacy group.

O’Dair also wrote that the College had hired a search consultant to help fill the position of Assistant Dean for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, which has been vacant since mid-October.

Beyond the administrative communications, Burt said the faculty was an important additional show of support for the undocumented students.

“I do think that the faculty letter was a useful show of support from faculty for the safety and confidence of all students at all Harvard, so I think it was important,” Burt said.

Burt said the letter was also a way for faculty who supported the mission of the student petition—but not every specific action that it called for—to add their voice to the cause.

The faculty signees come from across Harvard’s departments and schools, and the document continues to receive signatures. Blier said she hadn’t expected such a high volume of support.

“I’ve been hugely stunned and gratified by the vast number of faculty who have come to me and others to sign on to it,” she said.

Johnson said he was also surprised by the overwhelmingly positive response to the letter, and that he hopes it marks the beginning of a dialogue about undocumented students and a “robust” meaning of sanctuary for those students.

“I do think that it’s time for the University, for the faculty, to start to build capacity to try to protect our students,” he said.

—Staff writer Mia C. Karr can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @miackarr.

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