Emory University's leaders are considering whether to declare the school a “sanctuary campus” after Donald Trump’s presidential victory, amid calls from students and faculty urging the Atlanta school to defy the president-elect if he tries to deport immigrants who are illegally in the U.S.
Emory University president Claire Sterk wrote in a letter to students this week that administrators are reviewing their request “for a sanctuary campus and ways to protect all members of the Emory community," adding that the school is committed to being a welcoming place for undocumented immigrants.
“Emory always has been and will continue to be committed to the principles of academic freedom in a community that affirms everyone’s rights to speak, learn, and grow,” the letter read. “While doing so, we will not tolerate bullying, intimidation, or discrimination on any level. Instead, we expect empathy, mutual respect, and courteousness.”
Emory issued a statement late Tuesday that made no mention of a “sanctuary campus” but said the school would continue to support undocumented students, known as “Dreamers,” who were granted a temporary reprieve from the threat of deportation by an executive order from President Barack Obama.
Students and faculty from more than 100 universities have called on their administrators to declare themselves sanctuaries after Trump’s election. The president-elect has vowed to deport the estimated 11 million people in the country illegally, though he’s said he’ll first focus on those with criminal records.
They are borrowing the term from the handful of major cities – and dozens of smaller ones – that have declared themselves “sanctuary cities.” Though the meaning varies widely, it typically signals that the city won’t work with federal immigration authorities to hand over people in the country illegally.
Emory joins a small group of schools exploring the possibility. Wesleyan University’s president said Sunday the college would become a sanctuary campus, becoming one of the first in the nation to make the declaration.
Such a decision could have wide-ranging consequences. Trump has pledged to crack down on “sanctuary cities” by withholding tax dollars, though that would require congressional approval. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said after Trump's victory that he’s not ready to declare Atlanta a sanctuary, but that the city will continue to be a “welcoming” one.
Sterk’s letter was sparked by a petition signed by more than 700 students and 100 faculty members urging administrators to work with local police departments to shield the campus from federal immigration enforcement and provide legal services for undocumented students.
“We call upon the University to move beyond public statements conveying sympathy and symbolic support,” read the petition. “Instead, we urgently demand concrete actions by Emory University to protect all students — especially our undocumented students at the college and in graduate programs.”
Emory has had a complicated relationship with Trump. When someone scrawled the Republican’s name in chalk around campus in March, it brought protests, a debate over free speech and a pledge from the school’s then-president to provide a “safe environment.”
It comes amid increasing scrutiny of the Georgia immigration policy that restricts immigrants without legal status from attending public schools.
Two more schools told our AJC colleague Jeremy Redmon last week they will soon consider admitting immigrants living in the U.S. without legal status. And the state’s former university system chancellor, Erroll Davis, told Redmon this week the restrictive rules should be repealed.
Here’s a copy of Sterk’s full letter:
Dear Emory Students, Staff and Faculty,
"Following my letter of November 9, many of you did reach out to each other, including me. There is an overwhelming call to comfort each other, to ensure that we are a safe community, and to express hope for the future. In addition, a letter requesting the need for a sanctuary campus and ways to protect all members of the Emory community is being reviewed by the university leadership.
"We do not know what the future holds for our nation or for the world. But we do know that Emory’s future is determined by our shared values, our respect for each other, and our open and courteous engagement. Together, we will face the challenges of our time. We have to listen to each other. We must look each other in the eye and be honest and respectful. We need to value each other. Emory always has been and will continue to be committed to the principles of academic freedom in a community that affirms everyone’s rights to speak, learn, and grow. While doing so, we will not tolerate bullying, intimidation, or discrimination on any level. Instead, we expect empathy, mutual respect, and courteousness.
"As one of the top research and teaching universities, Emory has the people, knowledge, and talent to equip itself to create a better world for all. Let’s respond to the challenges posed, apply all that we have to offer in the service of humanity, and remain steadfast in our commitment to the values, vision, and mission that unite us. Much work already is underway, whether through formal and informal conversations, structured programs, intentional training to address unconscious bias, a curriculum that defines challenges in the nature of evidence, and more—including our external engagement and our willingness to be bold.
"As Thanksgiving is upon us, let’s honor each other, be thankful for the communities to which we belong and the opportunities before us, and help each other exceed our expectations of what we can accomplish together.
Claire E. Sterk