College responds to students’ list of concerns: No to ‘sanctuary campus’ label

After declining to designate Lafayette a sanctuary campus, President Alison Byerly has asked to once again meet with students who submitted a list of concerns to the administration asking to make the college more supportive to its minority and undocumented students.

On Dec. 9, Byerly met with students who submitted a list of concerns to her about topics such as making Lafayette a sanctuary campus and protecting undocumented students. Byerly did not agree to calling Lafayette as a sanctuary campus during the meeting.

“I am not inclined to use the term sanctuary campus because it’s a not very well-defined term that is not associated with specific acts,” said Byerly in an interview. “I thought it would be more useful for me to specify what we are able to do in supporting undocumented students…I join other college presidents in discouraging legislation that would restrict opportunities for students.”

Byerly recently wrote an email to student organizer of the list of concerns, Valerie Melson ’17, in which Byerly asked for another meeting with students shortly before spring break begins this semester.

“Perhaps, in keeping with the spirit of inclusion you demonstrated by collaborating with the many students and groups who are signatories to your letter,” Byerly wrote, “we might consider opening up such a meeting to others on campus, and inviting all who are interested to attend.”

Melson called Byerly’s response to the list of concerns “overall positive” and said that Byerly “liked the idea that we represented not just one student group but several student groups.”

In an interview, Byerly talked about the specific courses of action designed to aid undocumented students currently attending the college.

“We’re willing to offer counseling and support and some level of legal advice if necessary [to undocumented students],” she said. “We certainly will maintain a policy of not offering information about the residential status of students.”

Fayola Fair ’19, who helped create the list, was one of the students who met with Byerly late last semester.

I can understand why they’re nervous about [the label] and potentially being seen as a target… but it also makes me think, ‘When is the time to stand up?’” Fair said.

Fair also mentioned that the students who compiled the list are “still in contact with the administration, and will be talking with them about how they can implement the resources for undocumented students.”

In addition to showing solidarity with undocumented students, Fair said the college agreed to discuss many of the concerns on the list. Such concerns include renovating the Portlock Black Cultural Center, hiring counselors who are equipped to work with people in both the LGBTQ community and communities of color and potentially building a multicultural center.

Melson said that the administration has alleviated concerns that the expansion will wipe out the Portlock building with no replacement. She said that the concerned students have been reassured that Portlock will be given a new location.

Moving forward, there will be “meetings with the architect [of the new building] to make sure the space fits the needs of students and that it has some of the things that the old facility didn’t.”

Jovante Anderson ’19 also attended the meeting with Byerly and said it met his expectations.  

I expected that she would be attentive to our concerns, and she was, but I also expected that we would have disagreed on the logistics surrounding some specific concerns, and we did,” he said. “My biggest task is continuing the conversations that we began and holding accountable the people who have the power to affect the desired changes.”

Despite disagreements over the details of implementation, Byerly noted that she looked forward to future coordination between the college administration and the students.  

I noted that I’m going to devote an upcoming cabinet meeting to discussing [the list of concerns],” she said. “And we’d be prepared to talk with the students in a few weeks about which of these we think it’s likeliest that we’d move forward with.”

Melson said she views the overall response to the list of concerns throughout the Lafayette community as a positive sign.

“I was pleasantly surprised at how much people felt aligned with [the list],” she said. “We weren’t asking for anything absurd. It was things that made sense. And I think that’s why [administrators and faculty] were willing to get on board.”

Melson also said that she has received positive responses from students, faculty, the administration, alumni and Greek organizations such as Pi Phi and Delta Tau Delta.

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