Open Forum Examines Sanctuary Campus Issue


More than 60 faculty, students and staff gathered in Williams Hall’s Global Commons in mid-December to examine the sanctuary campus issue. A panel led by Nitzan Leboic, associate professor of history, offered the perspectives of two students and four faculty following a meeting held earlier with President John Simon to discuss the issue.

Prompting the discussion is a petition drafted by Lehigh students and faculty that asks Simon to declare Lehigh a sanctuary campus “in light of recent threats to the principles and security of our academic community.” The petition, which has been signed by more than 750 members of the campus community, calls upon the university to “immediately establish itself as a sanctuary for undocumented students, employees and their family members, as well as other groups experiencing discrimination.”

At the forum, two students spoke about the sense of unease about their future in the wake of the presidential election, following statements by then-candidate Donald Trump to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which began in 2012. The DACA program allows children of immigrants—often referred to as Dreamers—who came to this country without documentation to still attend college and pursue other educational opportunities.

Kevelis Matthews-Alvarado ’20 shared discussions with fellow students about the presidential election and its potential fall-out, and their concern that current confidentiality policies don’t apply equally.

For many people of color, she said, “there is a feeling that you aren’t able to stand up for your legal rights because they don’t apply to you. I want to see a future at Lehigh where all students feel that they can do that.”

Kristen Mejia ’17 told of two fellow students who were so anxious about the presidential election and the possibility of being forced to leave Lehigh that they couldn’t focus on anything else. One friend, in particular, felt her student experience was thrown into chaos as a result of the election.

In a letter to the campus community later that week, Simon and Provost Pat Farrell reaffirmed Lehigh’s commitment to provide a safe, welcoming and supportive campus environment for all, and updated the campus on several steps taken to urge current and future leaders of the country to uphold and continue to expand DACA.

Anand Jagota, professor of chemical engineering and director of the bioengineering program at Lehigh, spoke about the “grave danger” to the tradition of welcoming immigrants to the country, and of his fear of leaders or who deny or denigrate science.

“We live by numbers,” he said. “We set up systems that recognize facts. This is very crucial to America’s greatness, and it is all under severe threat at this time.”

Economics Professor Tom Hyclack, who had attended a meeting with Simon to discuss these issues, said that there was clearly a concern for students who may be impacted by any future changes to the laws, and that the university would be providing resources and support to help them navigate the new landscape.

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