In light of recent student walk-outs across the country, administrators at universities where students protested are now tasked with responding to a plethora of demands. At GW, a group of 400 students marched to the White House after the election and handed a list of demands tailored to GW to administrators at Rice Hall.
Student organizations including the Feminist Student Union, GW Voices For Choices and Fossil Free GW came together to ask administrators to take drastic steps to ensure the protection of minority students, undocumented students and students otherwise marginalized in higher education. The list of demands, among other things, also called for the University to protect students by re-channeling resources.
But with demands must come a well-researched plan of action. Students need to present definite timetables and requests for officials to modify existing policies that would still operate within accepted higher education norms. Unfortunately, rather than talking about feasible and legal ideas, students from the national movement and GW’s specific movement are calling for measures that could have the University breaking the law, like noncompliance with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Students should have set out demands that were more realistic to accomplish.
A list of demands without acknowledging federal law kills the demands’ legitimacy. The coalition of student organizations signed onto the national movement’s call for for universities to refuse to share information with the ICE, to make “sanctuary campuses” and to increase acceptance of undocumented students and provide them full access to financial aid.
Some of these demands won’t be accomplished, and students should have created ones that could have been. ICE requires the University to report the citizenship status of students receiving aid, and if a university refuses to comply, authorities can obtain a warrant and get access to that information themselves. The University also cannot provide undocumented students with financial aid, loans, grants, scholarships, work-study money or any other sort of aid that comes from federal funds. The University “should refuse to comply with ICE to the extent to which is legal,” according to the national movement’s list of demands. But a university shouldn’t refuse to comply with a federal agency.
Aside from the issues with ICE, the District is already a sanctuary city. A “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding undocumented immigrants came about under former D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and was reaffirmed by the District’s current mayor, Muriel Bowser. A sanctuary city is one where the police are told to not question the citizenship status of those they arrest or detain, so undocumented students don’t need to worry about being questioned by Metro Police Department officers. However, as a private university that provides federal financial aid to students, a campus cannot completely act as a sanctuary campus because students disclose their documentation status for financial aid information. Government authorities require universities to report that information back to them to ensure that federal money isn’t flowing to undocumented students.
Instead, students could have proposed that GW officials significantly expand the merit scholarships they offer to undocumented students, and they could even propose that officials give undocumented students an edge in admissions. While contentious, those demands would definitely spark productive discussion.
Unrealistic demands for GW didn’t end with rights of undocumented students. Because the Fraternal Order of Police endorsed U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, the list of GW students’ demands include a distrust of law enforcement officials. The demands call for a redistributing funds from police to increase financial aid, emergency funds and discretionary funds to low-income students. The demands assert that “placing us in these officers’ care is an act of violence, especially for black students.” Aside from the fact that we have no idea if or how many UPD officers are members of the FOP, administrators can’t simply redirect money currently funding the police department at students’ whim.
A lack of consideration of alternative policies, as well as a lack of understanding of what the University is able to do, makes the demands less convincing. The student conversation on campus and resulting demands could have been compelling and transformative, but they were made hastily with a lack of concern for feasibility or legality.
Nate Muramatsu, a sophomore majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.