To the Williams Community,
Caring for everyone in our community is what defines us at Williams. So it’s no surprise that in recent days a great many faculty, students, staff, and alumni have expressed worry about the possible effects of the incoming presidential administration on our most vulnerable populations, especially our undocumented students. Our community has come together to ask Williams and me, in particular, to do all we can to protect and support our undocumented students.
I assure you we will. The concern is a serious and well-founded one, given that we heard from the president-elect throughout the campaign that among his first actions as president would be to rescind many of the executive orders enacted by President Obama, including the one that established the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The program grants certain undocumented immigrants who arrived as children renewable two-year work permits and exemption from deportation.
At Williams, as at colleges and universities across the country, we are working to do all we can to support DACA students and prepare for what might come. The many petitions to create “sanctuary campuses,” including the one I received this week, reflect this broadly shared commitment to care for our students. The petitions vary in what they seek, but they are inspired by sanctuary cities, where local laws prevent police from asking about people’s immigration status and generally don’t use local resources to enforce federal immigration laws.
How that concept might apply to a private college isn’t clear, and how such a declaration might inadvertently harm our undocumented students is a deep concern of mine. This concern is shared by immigration law experts with whom we’re consulting, as well as by many other college presidents with whom I’ve spoken this week. We worry, for instance, about the possibility that the new administration might seek to deport first those students at campuses that announce publicly that they intend to shield their students in some way from federal authorities.
What we reaffirm now is that we will not release information about students’ immigration status unless compelled to do so by a court order or legal action. That’s our current practice, and we adhere to it strictly. Indeed, all confidential student information is similarly protected, as we abide faithfully by the provisions of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
Some of the sanctuary petitions and related activism have called on institutions to prevent federal authorities from entering campuses to enforce immigration policy. Legal counsel tells our peers and us that private colleges and universities do not have the ability to offer such absolute protection, and it would be a disservice to our students to promise what we can’t actually provide.
There are many things we’ve already been doing to protect and support our undocumented students. Indeed, many of the measures articulated in sanctuary petitions are standard practice at Williams. We welcome undocumented students, and we evaluate their applications in the domestic applicant pool under our need-blind admission policy. And we meet 100 percent of their demonstrated financial need—as we do for all students—providing them with additional grant money if they are not permitted to work in the U.S. (and therefore couldn’t fulfill a work-study requirement). We will continue to do all of this.
A number of staff members in the Dean’s Office and elsewhere provide support and guidance to undocumented and DACA students, including: Rosanna Reyes, who serves as the advisor to undocumented and DACA students; Ninah Pretto, who provides support and guidance on seeking legal advice and immigration assistance and helps students navigate U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and other resources; Tina Breakell, who supports and advises undocumented and DACA students interested in study-away opportunities; Michelle Shaw, who serves as the primary Career Center contact for undocumented and DACA students; Gary Caster, their primary contact for emotional and spiritual support through the Chaplain’s Office; and Molly Magavern and the entire Davis Center staff, who offer myriad support and resources to help all students, especially those from historically underrepresented and underserved groups, thrive at Williams.
Our most immediate concern is for our undocumented students. We also are worried about others in our community who may face an uncertain future with regard to immigration law, as well as those with undocumented family members. Staff in the Dean’s Office are caring for our undocumented and international students, and we are working with immigration law experts, peer institutions, and higher education associations not only to understand any potential policy changes and their effects, but also to do everything we can to prevent policy changes that would bring harm to our students and to promote policies that protect everyone in our community.
We are deeply committed to this work, and we ask you to do what you can as citizens to demand from our government that it continue to uphold our country’s fundamental values of equality and freedom.