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Cervelli addresses repeal of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals

| Thursday, September 14, 2017

Last November, students assembled in Le Mans Hall to distribute signs with messages of support for their undocumented peers. Saint Mary’s president Jan Cervelli asked for a sign to put in her car.

When a panel discussion before Thanksgiving offered her the opportunity to address how post-election tensions might influence underrepresented groups, Cervelli did not hesitate to speak.

When community members hosted an open forum last April after the College decided not to declare itself a sanctuary campus, she was there.

The recently announced decision end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program represents another opportunity for Cervelli to stand up for affected members of the Saint Mary’s community. And she’s taking it.

“We’re living in a diverse world — increasingly so,” Cervelli said. “[DACA students] bring to us very important perspectives, and our doors are completely open. We are committed to protecting those students in every way that we possibly can.”

Cervelli explained that the College exemplifies values of selflessness and resourcefulness in the face of adversity.

“We’re honoring all of our financial aid commitments to those students, and I can say that the Saint Mary’s community has really stepped up as well,” she said. “We have … experts at immigration law, and they are providing — at no cost — legal advice to any DACA student who so chooses. I’m very pleased about that.”

Welcoming vulnerable populations and celebrating their contributions allows Saint Mary’s to meet the expectations its founders had, Cervelli said.

“Particularly with the Sisters of the Holy Cross, one of their primary tenants is hospitality, which means more than providing meals and such,” she said. “It means opening doors to all, and particularly to refugees.”

Cervelli said the College rejects discrimination and judgment, and promotes unity and curiosity.

“I think [acceptance] is a key to excellence in education here,” she said. “Being able to understand different perspectives, being able to embrace those, is key to being able to function in any respect — both professionally and personally — upon graduation.”

The appointment of Cristal Brisco as college counsel, moves to diversify the faculty and staff hires and the administration’s desire to collaborate more regularly with Student Government Association (SGA) will establish an unbreakable sisterhood, Cervelli said.

“It is our obligation, and we’re very much committed at this point in time, to create a more inclusive and diverse campus,” she said. “We’re taking specific steps in that direction, I’m happy to say.”

The influence a small college can have should not be underestimated, Cervelli said.

“I think the president speaks on behalf of the institution and has to have a critical voice — not only on the campus to reinstate our values and what are principles are — but in the community as well: to bring the voice of Saint Mary’s to both the regional and national stage,” she said. “I’ve used every opportunity that I can to do that. There have been a series of letters that college and university presidents have signed over the course of this year, and I’ve taken advantage of every one of those.”

When students came directly to her office to speak about their concerns after the presidential election, Cervelli said she knew Saint Mary’s was unlike any other place.

“To be able to understand students’ perspectives, what their concerns and passions are — that’s why we’re here,” she said. “There’s no more important thing.”

An inclusive atmosphere can best be achieved if individuals with dissenting viewpoints respectfully voice their disagreements, rather than angrily debate, Cervelli said. In scenarios when opposing stances may easily surface — as they have been since last week’s DACA update — having peaceful, constructive conversations is essential, she said.

“There’s a discussion across the nation right now on how campuses can encourage this free speech, because … it’s been very difficult,” she said. “I encourage students to create venues where they’re able to, in a civil way … express their opinions in a way that’s factual, informational … non-confrontational and to begin to look for areas of commonality.”

Cervelli said compassion for DACA and undocumented community members should be high at a women’s college, since students at least partially understand the plight of being misrepresented and oppressed.

“It’s important that all Belles are able to learn about and explore themselves and to be able to establish their beliefs,” Cervelli said. “That’s what our campus should be all about.”

Students who may feel excluded or nervous about their future should trust in Saint Mary’s commitment to preserving ideals of love and empathy, Cervelli said.

“Our doors are open to all,” Cervelli said. “We respect all, without exception.”

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