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Students weigh in on sanctuary campuses

| Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Saint Mary's students discuss the college's decision to not be a sanctuary campus.Kathleen Donahue | The Observer

Saint Mary’s students discuss the college’s decision to not be a sanctuary campus.

Members of the Saint Mary’s community gathered in Reignbeaux Lounge on Wednesday to participate in an open forum about immigration policy and the College’s decision not to declare itself a sanctuary campus for the time being.

College President Jan Cervelli said Saint Mary’s strives to serve as a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere for everyone, regardless of status.

“We don’t differentiate, we don’t distinguish and we don’t discriminate,” she said. “What needs our students have, we meet.”

According to Cervelli, classifying Saint Mary’s as a sanctuary campus could draw unwanted attention, so the College has refrained from doing so.

“In the interest of protecting students without putting up a red flag and declaring us a sanctuary campus — which would put a spotlight on us immediately — we have decided not to do that,” Cervelli said. “Our judgment is [that] to make a symbolic gesture puts our students more at risk.”

Senior Miranda Reed, who helped plan the forum, said Saint Mary’s students should expose themselves to new viewpoints and engage in dialogue about pertinent societal issues.

“The best way to learn is from people you don’t necessarily agree with,” Reed said. “I’ll start thinking that I fundamentally disagree with somebody and that our thoughts are miles apart, and then the more we talk — especially speaking with patience, with facts — it turns out that how you got there might be different, but what you ultimately believe doesn’t vary all that much.”

Events such as the forum encourage students to step outside their comfort zones and grapple with new avenues of understanding, according to Reed.

“Having those outlets to express your opinion helps you figure out where you stand on issues,” she said. “If you stay insulated just in your own bubble surrounded by people who agree with you, by news sources you’re familiar with that you’ve always read, that you always turn to, that’s how you get stuck in ruts.”

Senior Caylin McCallick, who helped plan the forum, said contributing to discussions about potentially divisive issues can actually unify Saint Mary’s.

“Hopefully, by talking to each other we can be that school that rises together,” McCallick said. “If we can start that on a small level by just talking to each other and having those difficult talks … that’s important for our communication beyond this campus.”

The College’s mission may influence students’ stances on immigration, according to McCallick.

“It’s funny to me that we’re having this discussion in the first place because our school was founded by immigrant women,” McCallick said. “If you believe in this school, then you believe in that message.”

McCallick said a Saint Mary’s education equips students to welcome and accept one another.

“Having a more inclusive environment really should just mean living a more Saint Mary’s-like life because if our founders walked on campus and were disappointed by the way we’re treating each other, then we’re not doing something right,” she said. “College should be a place of learning, of personal growth and development as a human. If someone or multiple people are barring others from feeling safe in any way, then they can’t make that growth that they should in college.”

Students should extend sincere effort to make one another feel safe and valued on campus, Reed said.

“Being invested in your family of Belles means caring for every member of that family,” she said. “Sometimes caring just means learning and being there to support them however you can.”

According to Reed, Saint Mary’s offers students educational opportunities outside of the classroom, encouraging them to challenge their viewpoints and disturb their complacencies through events such as the forum.

“It’s such a big world out there,” Reed said. “There are so many ideas, so many different people. Exposing yourself to just what you agree with limits how much you can learn. Listening to those voices and encouraging that dialogue is one of the best ways we can learn to be citizens of the world.”

Reed said she hopes attendees learned the integral role of conversation in approaching contentious issues.

“When you’re dealing with such a divisive issue, one of the worst things you can do is tuck it in the corner and not talk about it further,” she said. “That’s how you get a lot of anger. That’s how you get a lot of resentment and bullying, to be frank.”

Knowing many of her peers support an atmosphere of inclusivity reminds her of the necessity of listening to diverse perspectives, Reed said.

“We really want all sides of the issue being discussed, so we know where we are as a community,” she said. “We’re really not as far away from each other as we think that we are.”

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About Martha Reilly

Martha is a senior majoring in English literature and political science. She currently serves as Saint Mary's editor but still values the Oxford comma in everyday use.

Contact Martha