Aoun promises to support undocumented students

By Glenn Billman, news staff

President Joseph E. Aoun reaffirmed Northeastern’s commitment to diversity and inclusion in a school-wide email Monday after weeks of pressure from community members and student groups to make Northeastern a sanctuary campus for undocumented students and workers.

Student groups such as Huskies Organize With Labor (HOWL), Students Against Institutional Discrimination (SAID) and #SanctuaryCampusNU urged the administration to support all community members—regardless of their immigration status—through letters, demonstrations and protests in the weeks following Donald J. Trump’s presidential win.

In the email, Aoun acknowledged the unease community members feel for their future safety and acceptance, while assuring them that Northeastern would not tolerate discrimination.

“Discrimination and hate have no place in a community of learning, and we will take the most forceful actions to combat them. We strive to assure everyone at Northeastern—Muslim or Jewish, atheist or person of faith—of their safety and freedom to learn, work and teach,” Aoun wrote. “This most certainly includes those who live in fear due to their immigration status. All members of our community who have immigration concerns, including our Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) students, should rest assured that we will continue to stand with you and safeguard you.”

Ben Simonds-Malamud, a sophomore English major and lead HOWL organizer, said he was glad to read Aoun’s announcement, but thought it lacked breadth of protection.

In addition to asking Northeastern to become a sanctuary campus—meaning the school would not participate in federal raids and deportations unless presented with a warrant—HOWL’s current campaign asks the administration to denounce registries of Americans—such as the Muslim-American registry Trump previously proposed—and protect workers’ right to unionize and strike.

HOWL delivered multiple copies of a pledge containing these demands to the administration and set a Jan. 13 deadline for Aoun to sign on.

“HOWL is not fully satisfied with this as a response to our asks, so we’re going to continue pushing for the pledge we delivered last semester to be signed,” Simonds-Malamud said. “The university has already put out two statements after the election, so they know that there needs to be some sort of a response, and we are just looking for the workers to get a response for what they’re asking for.”

Nadav David, a senior business major, is an organizer for the #SanctuaryCampusNU Coalition. He commended Aoun for the statement of support, but said he believes the email was too vague.

“We commend them for specifically speaking to undocumented students and their concerns, including DACA students, and we also commend them for reaffirming Northeastern’s values and including both students and other members of the community in this statement,” David said. “We do believe that they can go much further and be much more specific in the ways they can protect and support undocumented members of the community. Those are incredibly important members of our community and the upcoming [presidential] administration is vowing to take away their rights and their immigration status and possibly deport millions of people.”

The University of Pennsylvania, Wesleyan University, and several other schools have laid out specific proposals for how they plan to protect their communities from deportations.

Chelsea Canedy, junior biology and political science combined major and president of SAID, thinks the administration should follow suit and set an example by taking greater steps to protect undocumented community members.

“The higher and higher Northeastern goes up in the rankings, the more of a public voice we have to elicit concerns of both discrimination but also of injustice,” Canedy said. “So really pressuring the university to use that as an opportunity to create nationwide change is something we’re working heavily toward.”

HOWL’s next action will be a rally and march for immigrant worker’s rights Friday. #SanctuaryCampusNU is working to assemble letters from the Northeastern School of Law, faculty, students and campus organizations into one pledge to support undocumented immigrants.  
“Oftentimes when universities make announcements, they have a lot of autonomy over what exactly is said and how exactly it’s done,” Canedy said. “So the goal of the pledge is to essentially have the university say they are willing to dedicate resources and also finances to undocumented community members in a series of different ways.”

Photo by Scotty Schenck 

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