ASU considers sanctuary campus

ALAMOSA—After tabling a sanctuary campus resolution during an Adams State University Board of Trustees meeting in Denver in February, the board listened to public comments during a special work session Monday morning. If enacted, the policy would protect students who are undocumented immigrants from deportation.

"The reality is that we need to act as one body," said ASU Board of Trustees Chair Arnold Salazar. "We have to take everybody's input and we have to come up with a decision that is acceptable to the majority of the board. I want you to understand that that is a process that takes time. It's going to take a lot of debate and a lot of discussion.

"You need to know that our first and most important duty as trustees is the well being of this institution, which means all of the students, faculty and staff. "
ASU President Beverlee McClure thanked the trustees for tabling the discussion at the last meeting. "I just want to commend you for not having that conversation in Denver but having it here where you would have the chance to interact with our campus community," said McClure.

"Regardless of the outcome I know you're committed to the principals of safety and inclusion on this campus."
Salazar told the 20 public commenters who signed up that they only had three minutes each to speak. However, no one was cut off before they finished presenting.

Student Bradley Tijerina, a member of ASU's College Assistance Migrant Program, started by talking about how he was born a U.S. citizen though his mother was an undocumented student at ASU.

"This campus should be a sanctuary to any looking for a higher education no matter the color of their skin or where they come from," said Tijerina. "I live with fear that my family will be torn apart and that my family won't get the same opportunity as others. We should not fear education. Our education should be celebrated."

ASU Extended Studies Associate Vice President Walter Roybal shared a story about how his best childhood friend was an immigrant who came to school in the third grade without knowing any English.

"Under the Immigrant Reform and Control Act of 1986, his family earned immigration amnesty," said Roybal. "He graduated as one of the top five students in his class and went on to earn his engineering degree from Colorado State University. This family was not the 'bad hombres' portrayed by our elected leader of the United States."

Others talked about fear they have of deportation and the courage the school should have to create the policy. Some read letters from students and teachers who were too afraid to appear in person. Many argued that because ASU is the oldest Hispanic Serving Institution in Colorado that they should have no issues with becoming a sanctuary campus and that it is in line with the university’s mission.

Enrollment Management Vice President Eric Carpio and Political Science Professor Mari Centeno closed out the public comments nearly two hours later.

"This resolution doesn't guarantee anything, unfortunately," Carpio said. "I think our students understand that. But what it does though is make a promise that these students at welcomed at Adams State. It makes the promise that we'll do everything in our power as an institution to create a safe space for learning, to not share your information and to not voluntarily work with deportation authorities."

"If we're worried about the ambiguity of the term sanctuary," said Centeno, "then I would ask what it means to say we are a 'safe place.' If we're not going to protect our students to the best of our ability, then what does 'safe place' mean? Does that term give our students a false sense of security right now?"

The board was fragmented on how to proceed. The majority agreed that it was the right thing to do but were cautious on the legal details and ramifications. Some members were worried about how it will affect the university's accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission.

"If we do something that harms this institution, then all bets are off come the end of the year," said board member Wendell Pryor. "If we lose the accreditation then this becomes a moot point." Others pointed out that this could put ASU in a positive light with regards to the HCL and may make it a destination campus.

"If we take a stand what is going to happen and what will we lose?" Faculty Trustee Robert Benson said. "At the same time, what do we stand to gain by taking a risk? That's a consideration that we can't lose sight of. We can stand to become something famous that history will judge well. Is there a risk in that? Yeah there is."

Pryor also wanted to make sure that the resolution has weight behind it and isn't a symbolic gesture. "We have the new National Center for Historically Underserved Students," he said. "Why doesn't this become the first charge of that center? Let's put some teeth into it."

"I struggle with how the board can alleviate the fears students have in a substantive way that's not just rhetoric," added board member Cleave Simpson.

Pryor proposed to create a five to seven person committee appointed by the board to work on amending the resolution after immediately passing it. The committee would have some trustees but the majority would be a diverse group of community members.

Board member John Singletary was also for immediate passage of the resolution. "I think we need to be real, leadership-wise," said Singletary. "We've got to stand for something."

Pryor's motion to pass the resolution and form the committee failed with only Singletary and Pryor in favor. A motion was then made to form the committee first and make the final decision about the resolution after more deliberation. The motion passed with Singletary being the only trustee in opposition.

Salazar raised the idea of starting on the issue of the resolution's language right away with an executive session since the board's legal counsel was at the meeting via conference call. However, Singletary asked to not go into executive session. "What will we be discussing with them that we can't do in public?" asked Singletary.

The motion for executive session failed yet the meeting adjourned without any public legal discussion.

Once the committee is created it will report back to the board sometime in April so that the trustees can make a decision at their next meeting on May 12.

"We as trustees are charged with the governing of this university and we have many challenges," said ASU Board of Trustees Vice Chair Kathy Rogers. "We have a lot to consider and it's not just leading by our heartstrings. This is not a decision that will be made lightly."