By Allison Rodgers
On February 19th, both Haverford and Bryn Mawr voted on resolutions declaring institutional support for undocumented students and applicants. While Haverford’s version of the resolution passed, Bryn Mawr students voted to postpone voting indefinitely.
Bryn Mawr students Jessica Hyejin Lee ’13 and Anna Machalski ’13 co-sponsored the resolution. For Jessica, it was a step in a process of self-expression that began last fall when she “came out” as an undocumented student. “I came up with the resolution after I had come out on campus and I realized I wanted to impact the lives around me . . . I could make a difference even though I am undocumented.”
Jessica wrote an article about her own experiences for the Bi-College News and held a community discussion. It was there that a unique idea arose, inspired by a practice religious organizations have used for centuries. Just as churches provide sanctuary for those who face persecution, could private institutions declare themselves sanctuaries for undocumented persons? More specifically, could colleges take a protective and welcoming stance in support of undocumented students and applicants?
This idea turned into a formal resolution which recommended that Bryn Mawr Admissions and Financial Aid encourage qualified undocumented students to apply, give fair consideration and aid to such students, insert an “undocumented American” check box on the supplement, opt out of E-Verify, and finally that Bryn Mawr College declares itself a “sanctuary” for undocumented students.
The controversy surrounding the resolution becomes evident when addressing any group of people. For this article, students expressed widespread reluctance to go on record with their opinions. At plenary, the debate was heated and sometimes described as “hostile.” Both Jessica and Anna expressed their surprise at how quickly the debate moved from centering around the Bryn Mawr community to larger immigration issues. “I was most surprised that people brought in their opinions about illegal immigration” Jessica says. In the end, students voted to postpone voting indefinitely.
Machalski noted that there were various reasons for students to postpone, including students who would ultimately want the resolution to pass and didn’t want to risk defeat on a premature vote. Pragya Krishna was one of the students who felt that the resolution simply required more information. “I support the sentiment of the resolution” She said “It just needed more research.”
Other students felt that the resolution took on too much and some wanted Bryn Mawr’s resolution to be more like Haverford’s. Maya Felman is one such student. While she “completely agrees with the spirit of the resolution” she also thinks that “the resolution itself was trying to do far too much with very technical issues.” The Haverford resolution called for, “The Office of Admissions to work with the Financial Aid office to devise a method of giving undocumented students fair, need-blind admissions consideration.”
For students on the pro side of the argument, this result came across as a way for students to avoid making an uncomfortable decision. For Hyejin Lee and Machalski, it was a great disappointment. “I honestly didn’t realize it was a possibility that the resolution would be tabled,” said Machalski.
Still, both recognize that the loss has created an opportunity for community discussion. “Looking back on it, it took at least a couple of days to realize there is some good that can come of this,” said Hyejin Lee. “Maybe its good that the student body is now thinking about who we are as a community and how the actions we take don’t necessarily match the values we [have].”