In Trump era, SUNY considers ‘sanctuaries’

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By Julianne Mosher
Campus News

Since President Trump’s presidency, the worry of deportation of immigrants has risen dramatically, especially among college students on SUNY campuses.

After being detained at John F. Kennedy International Airport for over 24 hours, a sixth-year Stony Brook University doctoral student named Vahideh Rasekhi was released after returning from a visit to Iran to visit family. Her story made local and national headlines as her detainment brought Trump’s policy close to home.

When Trump was elected in November, the idea of campus safe sanctuaries (or safe havens) became a popular topic of conversation. Sanctuary campuses are a place where students will not be asked to show proof of citizenship and will not be arrested on campus to be deported. It is an idea that students can find shelter and safety while they attend school.

Students across the country began to protest the new president’s policies and petitions were formed to support the campuses’ undocumented members of the community. Rodman Serrano, a junior at Stony Brook University studying English, wanted to be involved with helping undocumented students on campus and make them know that they were not alone in case something were to happen.

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“In November after the election, that’s when students at SBU were concerned about being deported for being undocumented,” he said. “Faculty was concerned, too, and they helped create a petition that had over 1,000 signatures – which was amazing.” Serrano, an activist, did not write the petition, but he helped students find it who wanted to be involved and wrote an opinion piece about it for the university newspaper.

Stony Brook was just one of several schools to voice their opinions with marches, petitions or forums. The concern, worry and anxiety resulted in President Marc Cohen and his SUNY Student Assembly Board to gather and figure out what to do in case the time comes where a safe haven would have to be considered.

Cohen said that “sanctuary” is an ambiguous term in general, but SUNY had policies in place before Trump’s policies that will prevent anyone from being alienated on campus. For example, under SUNY rule, a police officer cannot ask you for proof of citizenship on campus and the university will not volunteer any information about students.

“SUNY is a sanctuary campus,” he said, “but if it means students need to feel safe, then we will stand up if we see any form of racism, bigotry or hatred.”

The State University of New York group is the largest system in the country, so Cohen believes that when students speak, they need to be heard.
“We stand firmly in solidarity with any student who wants to get an education,” he said. “Our duty is to represent every student.”
Although the discussion of sanctuaries is actively in talks among government officials, students and faculty at SUNY schools, nothing is being put into effect just yet, but they are acknowledging the different petitions.

“We’re optimistically looking to work with leaders in education and government to ensure our students are represented,” Cohen said.
SUNY is not the only school system on the east coast that is talking about sanctuaries. Earlier this year, President Mark E. Ojakian of Connecticut State Colleges and Universities released a statement that he too was concerned about the anxiety and unrest across the United States. He stated that CSCU institutions celebrate diversity and respect all students’ backgrounds.

For now, Connecticut schools are alongside SUNY by keeping their eyes and ears open, hearing the complaints of students and supporting them no matter where they came from until a sanctuary status needs to absolutely be considered.