Message to the Bowdoin Community — November 22, 2016

To the Bowdoin community,

As reported in Friday’s edition of The Bowdoin Orient, our students are currently collecting signatures for a petition calling on the College to investigate how we might make Bowdoin a “sanctuary campus” to protect certain “current and future students from intimidation, unfair investigation, and deportation.” As we have seen in the past several days, there has been a remarkable and deeply heartening outpouring of support for these young men and women from other Bowdoin students, and from faculty, staff, alumni, and parents—support that is being replicated within other academic communities across our country.

I have not yet received the petition but I expect I will before too long, and I look forward to talking with those students who have led this effort. I have reviewed its text, and before we start the Thanksgiving break I thought you might like to hear from me on it, in particular on what we have done and will do for our students. 

This petition and many like it circulating on college campuses across the country are prompted by the hateful rhetoric that surrounded the election (which I spoke to recently in reaffirming our values), and the statements by President-elect Trump on immigration and immigrants, along with his pledge to immediately rescind some executive orders signed by President Obama. While no specific policies have been announced as they relate to our students, among these executive orders is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program enacted in 2012. DACA allows certain individuals who were brought to or sent to the United States as children to receive a two-year renewable work permit and some protection from deportation.

On college and university campuses all across America, DACA and undocumented students are leaders, scholars, and active members of inclusive and vibrant academic communities. These young people have come of age in the United States. They have been educated here, and they seek to use their skills, talents, and abilities in ways that contribute to an American economy and society built by immigrants. But since the election, these students—strong, courageous, and resilient young people, many of whom have overcome tremendous obstacles—face an uncertain future that engenders fear, anxiety, and distrust. 

The question presented by this petition (and by others like it) is whether Bowdoin or other colleges and universities could effectively declare our campuses to be havens where immigration laws cannot be enforced. Legal counsel tells us that we have no such power, so to make this kind of declaration would be both disingenuous and falsely reassuring. It might also have the unintended and detrimental consequence of focusing attention on those we seek to support.

So, while this is not something we can consider, Bowdoin will continue to do what it always does: we will support the members of our community, in this case on many fronts.  The College already safeguards student privacy and confidentiality. We do not discriminate with regard to student housing, nor do we use E-Verify, and our Safety and Security personnel do not enforce immigration laws or make inquiries about the immigration status of students or employees.

Unless compelled by law, we will do nothing that would put a member of our community in this kind of jeopardy.

To help guide those affected, we will closely monitor the situation and provide access to information and resources.

And, as we have already done in recent days with the 130-member Annapolis Group of leading liberal arts colleges and with more than 180 colleges and universities seeking to uphold DACA , we will continue to join with others in the higher education community nationwide to support these students, to celebrate their accomplishments and potential, and to demonstrate that they are part of the chronicle of an America that stands for freedom, fairness, and opportunity.

We stand with those in our community who are threatened or harmed, we treat each other with warmth, respect, and humanity, we challenge ideas not identities and heritage, and we denounce hatred and bigotry. These are Bowdoin values.

With warm wishes for a peaceful and restorative Thanksgiving break.