Claire Sterk was inaugurated as Emory University’s 20th – but first female – president at the Glenn Memorial Auditorium on Wednesday.
At the same time, about 200 students, staff and faculty members were walking out of their classes and offices in protest.
At the school’s Quad, they demanded Sterk declare Emory a sanctuary campus.
Emory University junior Clementina Nyarko said she and her friends skipped their Spanish class Wednesday morning.
“I came here and I saw my Spanish professor here, which was really encouraging,” Nyarko said. “Although I am a citizen, I have friends and family who are undocumented, who are also just trying to get an education.”
Nyarko said it was important for the University to support these students “and set the standard for all other universities.”
Sterk has called the campus a “safe harbor” for students who are undocumented or have deferred action status and has also signed onto a letter from college presidents asking President Donald Trump to rescind a travel ban.
But some, like Subha Xavier, said it’s not enough. She’s a former refugee from Sri Lanka who grew up in Canada and now teaches French as an assistant professor at Emory.
“It’s about language. Language matters. Words matter. We need to use the right words here,” Xavier said.
One word in particular has been controversial: sanctuary.
Funding At Risk
If the University adopts sanctuary policies, limiting its cooperation with federal officials, it could lose state funding.
That’s because lawmakers are moving forward on House Bill 37 in the state legislature, which would strip state funds from private universities adopting “sanctuary” policies.
“What they’re basically doing is they’re taking a word whose roots are sanctus, whose roots are the holy, and they’re weaponizing it,” Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies professor Lynne Huffer said. “They’re turning it into something criminal.”
In a letter last month, Sterk wrote that Emory’s decision not to declare itself a sanctuary campus is in part because “there are many who interpret a university’s declaration of sanctuary status to be a commitment to disobey federal law.”
“See we’re a university that has a privilege, and that privilege is that we’re private, and we can do what we want,” Xavier said. “President Sterk we will stand with you. We are here to give [you] courage.”
Emory University student Chelsea Jackson said she felt it’s important to protect all students who are not U.S. citizens and help them feel safe on campus.
“It is our duty, it is our responsibility to stand with them, to protect them so they cannot be ripped out of our classrooms,” Jackson said.
The University said it does not share confidential student records with law enforcement agencies without a subpoena.
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