Response to Petitions

Sonya Stephens
Acting President

November 22, 2016

Dear members of the Mount Holyoke College community,

On Wednesday, November 16, students hand-delivered a petition with over 200 signatories, students and alumnae. That petition called upon the College administration to stand with DACA and undocumented students at Mount Holyoke by adopting a public written policy communicating specific protections. On Monday, November 21, a second petition, with 1,575 alumnae, faculty, staff and student signatories, was delivered electronically. That petition calls for Mount Holyoke College to declare itself “a sanctuary center of higher education.”

My colleagues and I commend the activism of members of this community, warmly welcome the sentiments and commitment that these petitions represent, and take very seriously the legitimate concerns they address. Our educational mission requires that we preserve both trust and public safety on our campus. Let me first then affirm that the Mount Holyoke College administration is dedicated to maintaining and strengthening the support and resources we have in place.

Alongside other college presidents and immigration specialists, I seek a solution that both protects vulnerable individuals and avoids inadvertently putting them—and others in our community—at risk. We have consulted broadly, discussing the matter with faculty with relevant expertise, other institutions, and legal experts. It is not at all clear that declaring ourselves “a sanctuary center of higher education” would assure the desired protections, and it might indeed create additional risks for the very students we seek to protect, as well as the broader Mount Holyoke community. We are nonetheless committed in the following ways to the measures and protections that the petitions call for:

  • Mount Holyoke College protects the confidentiality of its members and does not and will not share information unless we are compelled to do so by a court order or in exigent circumstances. We do not currently and, in the future will not, to the fullest extent permissible under the law, voluntarily share information with Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) or U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). This pertains across all aspects of the College.
  • The College will not voluntarily cooperate in providing ICE physical access to all land owned or controlled by the College, complying only when ICE is in possession of a warrant or court order, in which case we are under a legal obligation to permit entry to the College.
  • The immigration status of any member of our community will have no effect on how the officers in campus police interact with them. Campus police does not and will not inquire about or record information pertaining to an individual’s immigration status. Its officers do not enforce immigration laws, which are the preserve of federal immigration officials, nor do they or will they participate with ICE/CBP in their actions.
  • The College does not use E-Verify, a government website used to verify the legal work status of an individual.
  • The College has long prohibited discrimination in housing and as such does not and will not consider immigration status as a basis for room allocation.
  • Should DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration policy, be repealed, Mount Holyoke will continue to award college financial aid based on need and merit to eligible enrolled undocumented students.

These practices are already in place and are followed and upheld by administrators and staff across the campus. The student petition also calls for them to be “enforced by all contractors and subcontractors and their employees working on property owned or controlled by the College.” We commit to this in all circumstances where such contractors, subcontractors, and their employees might have access to confidential records or are engaged by the College in ways that might impact members of our community.

My colleagues and I will do all that we can to further assert our commitment and to mobilize support for these initiatives, as evidenced by my signature on the letter from the presidents of colleges anduniversities across the country urging President-elect Donald Trump and his administration to uphold, continue, and expand DACA. Yesterday, Megan Kludt from the law firm Curran & Berger LLP offered students an information session on campus that focused on DACA and possible changes in policy. A session for all Five College students is planned for November 30 at UMass Amherst.

Mount Holyoke College will continue to provide resources to students, including information about immigration laws and possible government policy changes. Students should continue to work with Jennifer Medina, an immigration specialist in the McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives; faculty should be in contact with Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty Jon Western, and staff should address questions to Interim Director of Human Resources Linda Samano.

Please know that we are committed to you and to ongoing discussions on these issues. We stand with you in opposition to nativism and xenophobia.

Sonya Stephens
Acting President