SPC creates petition urging university become sanctuary campus

Alec Slovenec

Editor’s note: This article previously reported that the Ohio Student Association (OSA) created the petition calling for Kent State to become a sanctuary campus. The petition was actually created by the Student Power Coalition (SPC). This mistake has since been corrected.

In response to “promises and threats made throughout the election process that potentially undermine… current policies and practices,” students from the Student Power Coalition (SPC) created a petition to make the university a sanctuary campus.

The Ohio Student Association (OSA) posted the petition on its Twitter account on Jan. 27.

As of the time of print, it had brought in signatures from 11 organizations and 439 individuals.

Within the petition, SPC explained that while it agrees with certain university policies, becoming a sanctuary campus would involve minor changes to Kent State’s current policies regarding diversity. The main idea is to guarantee the university’s position on protecting its students from future discrimination.

The petition reads: “It is our belief that this action is in keeping with our current status and policies at Kent State as our requests simply extend policies and practices that are already in place. In so doing, not only do we align ourselves with our university’s stated mission, we also reassert Kent State’s longstanding positions towards inclusion, diversity and social justice.”

Walter Gershon, an associate professor at Kent State, was one of the first faculty members to read and support the petition.

Gershon believes that making the university a sanctuary campus is essential to the protection of students. In particular, the movement focuses on protecting those from undocumented immigrant families, as well as students from countries that President Donald Trump recently banned from immigration.

“I think its important that these and other such important suggestions about the care and safety and wellbeing of our community come from the biggest constituents of our community — who are our students,” Gershon said. “For me, part of my position as a professor, a teacher and an educator is protecting the rights and well-being of students.”

As of Fall 2016, there are currently 75 Kent State students from countries affected by the executive order, according to a KentWired article published Wednesday.

Deborah Smith, an associate professor of philosophy and member of the Faculty Senate, has supported the movement as well.

She said these students also face threat of deportation, which the sanctuary campus movement may help prevent.

“It just shows that we care about these students,” she said. “We want to do whatever we can to help them in what are trying times. I think the very existence of it, whether or not the president endorses it … will have that symbolic value.”

The movement behind making universities sanctuary campuses has received opposition in other cases.

In early January, activists at Bowling Green State University urged their school officials to consider the university become a sanctuary campus. However, BGSU President Mary Ellen Mazey rejected the suggestion.

While other universities have not been able to attain sanctuary status, Kent State and its faculty have shown support for students of diversity.

A recent statement sent out by President Beverly Warren addressed many of the concerns students have in regards to the university’s commitment to protecting its multicultural student body.

“The faculty and staff of Kent State University affirm our longstanding commitment to be a welcoming, inclusive environment where all feel at home,” Warren wrote. “That commitment does not change as political or social movements change. Our values define who we are and what we stand for in a community that aspires to advance the creativity and belief in the invaluable benefits of an increasingly global society.”

Gershon compared the situation to the relationship between a teacher and his class:

“When someone does something in a class that is inappropriate and the teacher is silent about it, the rest of the class sees not only is the teacher silent, but what other people can get away with,” he said.

In this case, Gershon said, it is targeted populations.

“But it’s also talking about any marginalized population or any majority population will be treated with the rights and obligations at an institution that has claimed to protect them,” he said. 

The Faculty Senate will discuss the petition further on Monday, Feb. 13 at the Student Center Governance Chamber. The meeting will be open to anyone interested in this movement.

Alec is a diversity reporter, contact him at [email protected]