BEYOND RHETORIC: STANDING UP TO ANTI-IMMIGRANT DISCRIMINATION ON OUR CAMPUS

To the TNS Community,

We are grateful to the Office of Social Justice for raising attention to the current crisis of family separation, an example of the widespread, racist, inhumane practice to jail immigrants and tear families apart. We thank the Office for sparking a dialogue via their recent message. We find several critical limitations to that message, as we feel we must include and center international students, immigrant students and mixed-status family students in the dialogue (see below for our analysis, including our concern about The New School’s use of the word “illegally” to refer to immigration).

We hope to repair the lack of coordination between student-led coalitions and administrative initiatives.  By healing mistrust on our campus, we can make our university safer, more inclusive, and more cohesive for vulnerable community members. At the end of this message, we identify several next steps for which we request your support and collaboration.

I. Understand the exclusion and discrimination that non-citizen students experience on our campus.
We have been carefully studying the campus climate. Preliminary results of our study, including a survey the Sanctuary Working Group administered October 2017-January 2018, and taken online by a representative sample including over 200 students, yields several key findings:

  • International, immigrant and mixed-status family students alike report a lack of supportive community at TNS and they report significant minority-related stigma.        The degree to which they lack of support at TNS is significantly associated with reported depression, anxiety, and stress symptoms. In the case of immigrant and international students with permanent status, experiencing a lack of supportive community at TNS explained 25% of distress symptoms they reported. By comparison, concerns about the US political environment, though very high, are not associated with symptoms of distress. In light of this evidence, it is crucial to focus efforts on our campus community. We recognize that anti-immigrant and racist sentiments are not just an external harm for us to study and debate but that they manifest in microcosms like our university campus, especially if we do not look to the leadership of those who are directly affected and if we do not shape our university to increase access and equity for international, immigrant and mixed-family status students (a term usually referring to US citizen children whose parents are undocumented or have another precarious immigration status, as well as other family configurations where close family members or loved ones are vulnerable to immigration enforcement activity).
  • Our survey results affirm that there is much that our university can do to help. For example, NSSR students feel more welcome as non-citizens at The New School than students from the other TNS schools do. In addition to a statistically significant difference in NSSR students’ agreement with the statement, “Based on my experiences at The New School, I feel welcome as a non-US citizen student,” NSSR students commented on the positive impact of the NSSR Taskforce on Immigration Status and Inclusion on their experience at TNS. This taskforce includes directly affected students, faculty and staff and convened in May 2017. In one student’s words, it is very meaningful “that the taskforce exists, and all it does.” As you will recall, our proposal in March 2017, endorsed by a wide coalition of students, faculty and staff, was to create a university-wide taskforce. Unfortunately, the university president declined to create such a taskforce, failing to recognize the leadership of affected community members and the will of the university community. We find that this was a missed opportunity to show international, immigrant and mixed-status family students that they are welcome at TNS, not just with words, but with a willingness to collaborate, to respect the knowledge and experience of those who are directly affected and to support and include them in the university’s policy-making and in our institutional response to matters of immigrant justice.
  • Of 8 different proposed actions for the university to take, the one rated as most “urgently needed” is “increasing financial support for students targeted by changes in federal immigration policy, including travel bans and repeal of DACA.”Whereas 87% of respondents call for increasing financial support for targeted students, over 66% of respondents similarly identify an urgent need for: training TNS staff on how to meet the needs of non-citizen students, providing legal help at TNS for non-citizen students, declaring the university a Sanctuary Campus and increasing mental health and counseling services.
  • 35% (n=61) of students indicated that a close family member or loved one was affected in at least one of the following ways: been deported, has TPS/DACA/expired visa/undocumented, is seeking asylum, affected by travel ban, or another acute immigration-related stressor. As our survey was taken by a representative segment of the larger TNS student population, the evidence suggests that an even larger number of students have close family members or loved ones deported or with precarious status. In our efforts to advocate and present our concerns to TNS administrators, we have frequently been told that there are only a handful of affected students and that prioritizing their concerns and increasing resources for such a small population is not justified. Our observation that the effects of immigration enforcement, racism and xenophobia are in fact widespread in a campus community as international and diverse as ours has not received due consideration. There are no dedicated resources for mixed-status family students in spite of our call for our university to join us in developing these supports, nor are there dedicated resources for international students who have or obtain permanent status and no longer have a case with ISSS. We have called for the needs of all students affected by precarious status and anti-immigrant sentiment–including mixed-status family students–to be understood. As one example: mixed-status family members of our groups have received incorrect advice from TNS Student Success resulting in not receiving federal financial aid they later discovered they are eligible for, and accumulating debt that they should not have.

II. Center affected community members — going beyond rhetoric
We are troubled that the Office of Social Justice’s message echoes anti-immigrant (and counterfactual) discourse by using the word “illegally” to refer to immigration. We note that immigration activists have long fought against the usage and normalization of this word. We advise our campus community to refrain from using such alienating and threatening terms in immigration discussions, including when paraphrasing the current administration’s policies. In the specific situation referred to in the statement, it is important to understand that in fact it is legal to enter the US to seek asylum and that many are entering the US without inspection because the US is not honoring laws and international treaties it is party to. In fact, several senior advisers recently resigned from Homeland Security protesting the current administration’s failure to commit to the “rule of law.” In this context, the Office of Social Justice’s use of “illegal” both obscures an understanding of immigration and reinforces anti-immigrant rhetoric. We contend that TNS’ analysis must go deeper than surface-level reporting on official federal policy and grapple with facts on the ground as they impact our campus and the community we are embedded in in NYC.

To that end, we encourage the Office of Social Justice and other university-wide offices to consult and coordinate their initiatives with student-led social justice groups. In the case of immigrant justice, this includes the Sanctuary Working Group and La XENTE, made up of students, staff and faculty from all TNS divisions. Both have been active on campus as well as with organizations around the city (you can see some of that work on: makesanctuary.org). These university-based organizations–both under-resourced–have been doing a tremendous amount of work around these issues and have a close connection to them, both within the university and through our relationships with NYC-based community organizations. Referring The New School community to us and consulting with us about new initiatives would help our university further these efforts collaboratively and ground them in our campus and community context.

The lack of recognition, support and referral to coalitional groups such as Sanctuary Working Group and La XENTE is a serious concern and has already resulted in the disappearance of TNS DREAM Team. This makes TNS one of the few universities in the area which does not count with a student group led by and exclusively focusing on the concerns of DACA and TPS recipients and other undocumented community members. Meanwhile, other universities are increasing visibility for this community and sustaining DACA and TPS recipients in their movement to come out of the shadows, unlike TNS’ official policy which is blind to this community’s needs, stating The New School will “welcome, admit and support students without regard to citizenship status.” In our meetings with administrators, we have learned that many interpret TNS’ policy to be one of “not wanting to know if someone has DACA or is undocumented [ostensibly, ‘for their own good’].” Such policy pushes undocumented students back into the shadows, flies in the face of what DACA, TPS and undocumented students have asked our university to do, and leads to mistrust in our institution. We believe TNS should take its rightful place in the public discourse and in our community as an institution which reduces the fear, uncertainty and marginalization undocumented students experience. Our university must collaborate with undocumented students and their representative groups to ensure that The New School reduces, not reinforces, our society’s fear, distortion and marginalization of undocumented immigrants.

Regarding the Office of Social Justice’s recommended actions for the campus community, our groups wish to bring attention to the following considerations, not mentioned or addressed by the recent message:  a) a large segment of TNS community does not have US citizenship or US elected representatives; b) many do not feel safe protesting in an environment of racial profiling and corrupt and overzealous immigration enforcement, and many international students are excluded from, or not comfortable with, US norms of protest; c) many international, immigrant and mixed-status family students experience discrimination at TNS meaning anti-immigrant sentiment and policy is not merely an external harm for us to study and debate but one that directly affects our campus, and we must take action to address systemic inequities and center affected students, staff and faculty if our university is to credibly engage on immigration equality. In this context, we ask that university initiatives center, consult with, and explicitly reflect the interests of international, immigrant and mixed-status family students. Unfortunately, the recent message was a reminder of the lack of support and visibility many of us experience at The New School.

III. Next Steps
To adequately respond to the institutional discrimination reported by international, immigrant and mixed-status family students, and for our university to live up to its legacy at this anti-immigrant and anti-international student moment, we identify several immediate next steps. Given the Office of Social Justice’s new initiative, we are reaching out to them in hopes of collaborating on the following measures of support and inclusion:

1.  Accompaniment training
Accompaniment to ICE check-ins and hearings has been one of the most effective programs in preventing deportations and abuse. It offers an immediate way for all lay persons (and professionals) to get involved, show up in ways that affected community members are asking allies to show up, and would provide a straightforward and meaningful way for students to get involved and learn more about the issues. Sanctuary Working Group would be glad to organize this training, and we are seeking the Office of Social Justice’s co-sponsorship and assistance in promoting the training. We feel strongly this will advance our shared mission and should be of great interest as a joint collaboration.

2. Dedicated staff position specialized in precarious immigration status
TNS should create a position and hire a staff person specialized in immigrant justice, who is a recipient of DACA or other precarious status and/or is specialized in community organizing and advocacy with persons with precarious immigration status. First, this person can work with representative groups including SWG and La XENTE to do community-building and help create an inclusive, non-alienating environment for all non-citizen students; can help undocumented and mixed-status family applicants navigate options and procedures for internal and external financial aid; and knowledgeably provide advice and resource counseling. Second, this person would address a key gap in TNS’ policy-making, evident in the administration’s lack of follow up on policy revisions and information resources as pertains to international students targeted by the travel bans, undocumented students and mixed-status family students. For example, a policy review promised to us by Student Success in May 2017 was not completed (or if it was, we were never consulted). In addition, only this summer, a year-and-a-half after the presidential election, was the university website updated with (partial) information about campus resources and policies regarding support and access, a measure promised to us 6 months ago. It does not include students with TPS or of mixed-status families in spite of our efforts for all students with precarious status to be included. Since it was not available in the spring, another admissions cycle passed that undocumented, mixed-status family and allied prospective students are were without key information most NYC universities have featured on their website since fall 2016. Given rapidly changing federal policies, we hold that a specialist is needed to inform and coordinate such efforts which can be taxing and require duplication of effort for multiple administrators/generalist staff to research, update and implement. This staff position is key if we hope to repair institutional mistrust and build better communication, collaboration and coordination between representative groups and TNS administration. This position could be the basis of a program of access and support for students with precarious status, safeguarding and tailoring our legacy as a University in Exile to the current anti-immigrant context.

3. Increase funding for targeted students
Launch a scholarship fund for undocumented and mixed-status family students, an initiative started by Prof. Alexandra Delano and the NSSR-Lang Taskforce on Immigration Status and Inclusion. Our university should also follow and sustain NSSR’s model, securing emergency funds for legal expenses and other immediate needs of those targeted by travel bans and other discriminatory changes in immigration policy.

4. Bystander and competency training for staff, faculty and student-workers
SWG has begun a series of well-received staff and faculty and student trainings on understanding the needs of non-citizen community members and being a proactive bystander Beyond [Know Your] Rights. We conducted a training for Resident Advisors–for which the university president took credit in his March email to the community without acknowledging or supporting our efforts. We believe these trainings should be scaled up and offered on at least a yearly basis, and with resource support and assistance in promoting the trainings, this could be a sustainable program similar to the perennial training on LGBTQIAGNC SafeZone and the workshop on racial microaggressions based out of Student Wellness both of which center the leadership of students and staff with targeted identities. Additional Beyond Rights trainings could be planned and tailored to the needs of various citizen and non-citizen groups at TNS. It is important that such programs be conceptualized and led by representative organizations so that there is trust and buy in of students and staff with precarious immigration status.

Please contact us (sanctuary@newschool.edu) to discuss potential collaboration toward meeting the needs of international, immigrant and mixed-status family students. We encourage the campus community to renew the call, originally issued in February 2017, for the university to direct institutional resources toward these unmet needs and to respect and center the efforts of student-led groups including Sanctuary Working Group (SWG) and La XENTE.

While we are concerned by the recent message, we regard the oversights it contains as evidence of a need for stronger collaboration between SWG, La XENTE and university officials. Given the Office of Social Justice’s current interest in immigration justice, we are reaching out to their office to coordinate our efforts and for their assistance in taking immediate action as described above.

Our survey report will be finalized in the coming months. There are still opportunities for you to give your input, potentially through focus groups which are being developed (contact sanctuary@newschool.edu). The conclusion of our report, which will be shared with TNS community and the general public, has not yet been written. We hope that we will be able to celebrate and reflect on the ways in which the Office of Social Justice along with targeted community members and their representative groups partnered to support, include and center international, immigrant and mixed-status family students on our campus. TNS website notes that we are a progressive university and the university with the highest proportion of international students in the United States. We hope, as we have from the beginning of our work, to ensure that TNS is a welcoming and inclusive university and that it lives up to its potential and its legacy to lead and innovate on immigrant justice.

Sincerely,

Sanctuary Working Group and La XENTE

July 24th, 2018.