Evergreen Updates Policies on Undocumented Students

Administration Responds to Pressure from Students and Community

POC Talk was contacted by a student who has requested to remain anonymous, representing the undocumented student support group, an informal organization working on campus and with the Evergreen administration to support undocumented and immigrant students. Recently they have met with the president George Bridges to discuss their demands to create a safer campus environment for undocumented students.

On Jan. 30 Bridges released a preliminary statement concerning undocumented students on campus in which he said that  “As a general rule, college presidents remain neutral on political questions. Colleges should be places where all sides of questions can be debated. If a college president preemptively declares a winner in that debate, the effect can be chilling. But there are exceptions, which our Social Contract acknowledges, when political questions have a direct and immediate effect on the mission of the college.” He continues that in regard to Trump’s executive order banning entrance to the U.S. from certain muslim countries he considers “The present case is such an exception. While the courts will decide on the constitutionality of this executive order, I must express opposition to this or any action that threatens Evergreen’s ability to serve students and our mission of teaching and learning.”

Bridges later met with the undocumented student support group and released a revised, expanded statement that considered further concerns of the group on Feb. 21.  Bridges voiced strong support for undocumented and immigrant students saying “Evergreen remains committed to protecting and supporting our undocumented students in every way legally possible. Evergreen will not willingly cooperate with any efforts, federal or local, to collect or retain any information that identifies them as undocumented, to defund any financial aid they receive, or to deport them.”

This clarified policy comes in response to student proposals and conversations Bridges had with those in the Evergreen community personally affected by federal immigration law. Many demands that students raised were previously laid out in a petition, signed by 900 students, faculty, staff, and others. According to the student who spoke with us, these demands were also restated in a document given to Bridges in a Jan. 30 meeting.

The updated statement provides specifics about the actions Evergreen will take to defend undocumented students. It promises that the school will not release the identities of undocumented students unless presented with a warrant or subpoena at which point the decision will be decided by the attorney general; college police officers will not ask about immigration status or participate in federal immigration enforcement actions; the college will not assist federal agents in actions intended to deport students; the state need grant, and as of next fall the Evergreen need grant, will be available to all students; and should federal policy affect students financial ability to continue their education the college will prioritize the needs of undocumented students in anyway the college possibly can.

There are several steps the undocumented student support group is still requesting of Evergreen including visible signage affirming that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and other immigration authorities cannot enter private spaces such as dorms or offices without subpoena or court order; that the school provide legal counsel for undocumented students who require it; and the counseling center expand staff to include staff with linguistic and cultural competencies to support undocumented students. While Bridges wrote that “the college will be creating opportunities for staff and faculty to learn more about the challenges undocumented students face at Evergreen” but students are requesting Evergreen include mandatory training for staff and faculty focusing on supporting undocumented students beginning with financial aid and admission services and allocate resources to support such training.

This coalition has had several meeting with President Bridges to try and work out the best way the school can support students. At one of the meetings he expressed that of the state schools Evergreen is “in the lead” in expressing the need to protect undocumented students. He recently went to a meeting of college presidents where they discussed how Washington state colleges will react to and oppose any current or future plans to hinder the safety and education of students at our schools. To date no Washington state colleges, including Evergreen, have declared official sanctuary status, presumably because of fear of financial backlash.

Concern has been expressed by some members of the undocumented student support group about the amount of time and effort it has taken for these statements to be released. Some believe that by not officially declaring sanctuary status the college has placed money above students safety, arguing the importance of fully committing ourselves to the inclusive ideals of this college should override fear of retaliation

However others defend the college’s worry about monetary retaliation as reasonable especially since the Trump administration has targeted sanctuary cities in an executive order stating “jurisdictions that willfully refuse to comply with 8 U.S.C. 1373 (sanctuary jurisdictions) are not eligible to receive Federal grants, except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes by the Attorney General or the Secretary.”

There is also issue being taken with the inclusion of the number of undocumented students at Evergreen in Bridges first statement. Bridges has said these number were released to combat deniers who believe no undocumented students attend Evergreen, but others argue undocumented students safety should have priority over convincing deniers of their existence.

Students, faculty and staff are working in several ways to advance support for undocumented students, some calling for a press release of Bridge’s new statement in addition to the statement that was released by email and added to the Evergreen website. The list of student demands has been presented to the Geoduck Student Union (GSU) which in turn is posing the question of support for “sanctuary” status to a student vote which will be conducted on canvas. This vote, although important, will not have the authority to officially declare sanctuary status but will demonstrate student opinions on the matter to the administration.

A student told me that a big issue the group is working on is “a proposal for ways of expanding financial and institutional support for undocumented students, which includes making changes to the [internship and independent learning contract] system, which can sometimes classify undocumented students as international students, and thus bars them from pursuing internships.” They are also attempting to create a TRiO like program that is available to undocumented students. TRiO is a support system for first generation immigrant and low income students that, because of federal funding, does not currently work with student who are undocumented. A group of people within this coalition have come up with a retention plan for undocumented students similar to TRiO, that would work to help retention without obviously outing these students status.

She also stated, “some of these advances have come about through the pressure of the coalition, [some] are also the result of much hard work from students, staff, and faculty working on these issues since before the election.” One example is the Standing Committee for the Retention and Recruitment of Latinx Students, Faculty, and Staff which is meeting this Thursday, Feb. 23 to begin working on implementation of some of the proposed plan. Bridges has also talked about incorporating undocumented student retention into the job of the retention coordinator (a new position being filled for next school year).

Finally in addition to the Evergreen need grant being made fully available to undocumented students, a new scholarship called the DREAMERship scholarship was recently created and announced alongside the introduction of a new link on the admissions and financial aid pages including information for Undocumented students on applying for admission, establishing WA state residency and applying for financial aid.

If you would like to become involved with the group of students advocating for these policies, you can contact POC Talk at poctalk@cooperpointjournal.com

POC Talk is a space to focus on the unique experiences people of color face at Evergreen and in Olympia. It is written anonymously by an Evergreen Student of Color in an effort to specifically discuss POC issues. We want to center and boost POC voices so if you have something to add you can submit your questions, comments, concerns, or ideas for what you would like POC Talk to cover to poctalk@cooperpointjournal.com