Despite initial meeting, disagreements persist about the safety of undocumented students

By Jesse Stokes, EDITOR IN CHIEF
On January 9, 2019

In an era where the U.S. government is partially shut down over disputes of immigration and border security, a similar conversation has made its way to the campus of USF.

Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) are lobbying to members of the administration to become “noncompliant” with federal agencies such as Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the FBI to establish itself as a sanctuary campus.

Their stance comes from an alleged background of the university willfully turning over the information of undocumented students to agencies like ICE and the FBI without a warrant, according to Taylor Cook, a member of SDS.

“To be noncompliant with federal agencies such as ICE and the FBI means to not let these agencies have access to undocumented students information without a warrant,” Cook said. “We realize that with a warrant, they should have access to the information, but there is no reason for these federal agencies to have access to undocumented students’ information.”

However, according to Dean of Students Danielle McDonald, noncompliance with such agencies is not a solution.

“Since our first meeting, some of the participants have changed and the goal seems to have circled back to declaring USF a sanctuary campus,” McDonald wrote in an email to The Oracle. “I do not believe it is in the best interest of the students to continue to focus on that term.

“It has shown to be a subjective term that does not provide true protections for our students and could have more negative impact than positive. I believe our efforts can be better served focusing on ensuring that our students know their rights, how the university protects their rights and provides supports needed.”

McDonald said she and her office have not ever been, nor is it within their boundaries to be, directly involved with any situation of the university disclosing the information of undocumented students to federal agencies.

“USF complies with federal law which protects student records and privacy under both state and federal laws,” McDonald said.

McDonald said that there are some issues that get in the way of the university directly communicating with undocumented students to make them aware of what resources are available to them.

“The challenge in communicating is that we are deliberate in not having lists of undocumented students,” McDonald said. “The positive is that information is not available and therefore not able to be provided.  The challenge is that it limits our ability to communicate directly with the students who need the information.”

What McDonald said conversations did turn to, before going back to the argument of USF becoming a sanctuary campus, is the implementation of a new page on the website of the Office of Multicultural Affairs about what rights undocumented students have and what services the university provides.

“We need to ensure that information is easy to access and understand in order to avoid future misperceptions and misunderstandings,” McDonald said about the goals for the web page.

However, for Cook, the conversation does not stop there.

“It is important that we do actually implement the change that SDS is asking for and that undocumented students are asking for,” Cook said. “A website is good in USF being transparent, but it is definitely just the first step and it is not the end goal.”

McDonald said that a number of resources are already available for undocumented students on campus and that the members of SDS she met with last semester were not aware that a number of their concerns had already been addressed by the university.

“They had not participated in our UndocuAlly program or met with anyone in our Office of Multicultural Affairs or Dean of Students office to find out what we already do,” McDonald said of SDS. “They had also never requested a meeting to discuss their concerns.  The University has continuously demonstrated support for undocumented students including the President who joined other University Presidents in signing a letter in support of undocumented students.”

Though, according to Cook, SDS has requested meetings with administrators since their campaign for a sanctuary campus began about a year ago.

Moreover, Cook said the conversations with McDonald are a nice start, but she and her organization still want to speak with members of upper administration, including President Judy Genshaft and Provost Ralph Wilcox.

Cook added that frustrations are growing as a result of what she claims is the university’s pushback against change.

“It feels like USF does not really want to change and they do not really want to meet our demands,” Cook said. “While they are meeting with us it just seems like we are being pushed off. We have gone through our demands multiple times and it has been told that ‘we are going to tweak this so we can show the president and provost,’ but it feels like we just keep getting put off to make us be quiet.

“It is very important that we, a school that prides itself on diversity and being progressive, are actually progressive and provide a safe space for all students.”

However, for McDonald, she said keeping an open line of communication with students is a virtue of hers and the Dean of Students office.

“I would want to make clear that the Dean of Students Office is always open to meeting with students and discussing their concerns,” McDonald said. “Students do not have to protest to get my attention.  I believe that in the past few years of my serving in the role of Dean of Students I have demonstrated this value.”

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