On Nov. 18, hundreds of students walked out of classes and occupied Hopkins Hall, urging President Adam Falk to declare the College a sanctuary campus.
The protesters condemned President-elect Donald Trump’s proposed policies targeting minority groups and called for administration and community members to commit to protecting the College’s vulnerable students.
During his campaign, Trump promised to mass deport undocumented immigrants in the first 100 days of his presidency. He has also said he plans to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provides protection from deportation for undocumented people who entered the country as children. Students fear the potential consequences of Trump’s impending presidency, and they used the campus walkout to communicate their concerns.
At 11:30 a.m., more than three hundred students gathered in front of Paresky Center. They marched to Hopkins Hall, holding signs reading, “Brown, queer and illegal” and “We refuse to hate,” among other statements. Marcone Correia ’18, Jaqueline Serrano ’17, Kelly Tellez ’17 and Juliana Veira ’17 led the group in chants, which included “No borders, no nations, stop deportations” and “El pueblo unido jamás será vencido” (“The people united will never be defeated”). Outside of Hopkins, the College’s main administrative building, individual students took turns speaking through a megaphone, voicing discontents about living as minorities both in the community and in the country.
Correia and Serrano revealed themselves to be of DACA status. “We’re here to stay,” Correia said, drawing applause from the crowd.
Another student read a story written by her sister detailing the fear undocumented immigrants will have to experience daily under Trump’s administration.
While the rally focused on issues of immigration, other topics of discussion included Black Lives Matter, queer rights, the College’s mental health services and Trump’s proposed Muslim registry. Tellez said the walkout aimed to promote “a multi-faceted understanding of dismantling different but interconnected systems of oppression.”
“Less slabs, more therapists,” one of the chants, contrasted the numerous marble slabs around campus with the lack of available counselors at the Health Center.
Protesters entered Hopkins, where they continued to chant and tell stories. It was the first time students had occupied Hopkins since 1969, when the Afro-American Society demanded that the College create an Africana Studies department, refusing to leave the building for several days. Serrano said the protest showed the power and vivacity of student activism.
Summoning the history of student activism at the College, Serrano asked protesters to stand in solidarity with their most vulnerable classmates. “We need to show we are willing to put our bodies on the line,” Serrano said.
The Williams walkout followed a wave of sanctuary campus walkouts that week at colleges and universities across the nation. The sanctuary campus initiative originated with Cosecha, a national movement fighting for undocumented immigrants’ rights.
Cosecha coined the term “sanctuary campus,” which is derived from the concept of a “sanctuary city.” In recent years, numerous local governments have declared themselves sanctuary cities, pledging to protect undocumented residents from deportation by immigration authorities. The function of a sanctuary campus is still murky, but the idea is that it commits to protecting its undocumented students, Serrano said.
Serrano spoke with Cosecha’s organizers in the days before the walkout. Though most campuses working with Cosecha held walkouts on Nov. 16, Serrano and other organizers decided to have the College’s walkout on Nov. 18, a Friday, because they expected more students to be available. It also gave them additional time to plan. In total, the organizers spent three days planning the walkout.
Earlier that week, professors Jacqueline M. Hidalgo, Kashia Pieprzak, Mark Reinhardt and Mérida M. Rúa began circulating a petition for the College to publicly declare itself a sanctuary campus, and a group of alumni signed a similar petition.
Falk sent a campus-wide email on Nov. 17 reaffirming the administration’s commitment to protecting undocumented students within the bounds of federal law. Falk, however, did not declare the College a sanctuary campus, citing concerns that the sanctuary campus label could make the College a target for immigration authorities.
Trump has vowed to pull federal funding from sanctuary cities, giving rise to expectations that he will do the same for colleges and universities declaring themselves sanctuary campuses.
Wesleyan University, the University of Pennsylvania and Swarthmore College are among institutions that have officially described themselves as sanctuary campuses.
Organizers noted that President Falk’s pledges to protect undocumented students are nearly identical to the statements made by presidents of sanctuary campuses, though Falk has abstained from the sanctuary campus label. While commending Falk for his efforts, Serrano said formally declaring sanctuary would be a powerful statement of solidarity.
The main goals of the walkout were “to inform and to mobilize” the student body, to show solidarity with vulnerable groups and to communicate with administration, organizers said.
Tellez stressed that students should not rely on the administration but must take action themselves. “Claiming space” and “building student power” have to continue, she said.
Tellez said that support alone is no longer sufficient, asking students to rethink the meaning of allyship in a way that involves more active participation. “We want people to realize their actions have an impact.”
Students should aim to be “active accomplices” rather than “passive observers,” Serrano said, urging students to “use their bodies and their voices to protect the most vulnerable members of the community.”
Individuals in the community who are not directly targeted must hold themselves accountable for their behavior, Tellez added. Students must “dissect their privileges” and realize that there are members of the community with different experiences and discontents, and that some members fear removal from the country.
“That’s not saying you should feel guilty,” Serrano said, “but you should mobilize to create change.”
Administration can be slow to respond to students’ requests, Bushra Ali ’17 noted, generating the need for demonstrations such as the walkout. “It takes a lot of pushing from individuals to get things done,” she said.
Several student organizations contributed to the walkout, including the Coalition for Transparency and Accountability (CTA) and the Coalition for Immigrant Student Advancement (CISA). Moises Roman Mendoza ’19, an organizer and member of CISA, said the walkout was a collective effort and that groups would continue to “push from different angles” to make the College a haven for marginalized groups.
“There needed to be more conversation,” Mendoza said. According to him, many of the College’s students would be directly threatened by the Trump administration, especially if the president-elect chooses to actively pursue deportation for DACA beneficiaries.
“As someone with DACA, the government has my name,” Serrano said. “They have my address. There’s no protection anymore.”
Mendoza emphasized that organizers seek to cooperate with administration and that the walkout was not an act in opposition to administration.
“We are working with administration and pushing administration to secure the students that we have on campus,” he said.
Organizers said that they could not yet be certain what specific actions the Trump administration would take, but they are making plans to respond to potential threats. Students and faculty are currently speaking with Williamstown and North Adams churches to seek out potential sanctuaries should they be needed.
Serrano said that faculty and alumni were moving to ensure undocumented students would “maintain access to resources under persecution.”
Mendoza said he hopes the walkout will inspire continued conversation in the student body. “It was public, it was seen by a lot of people, it was shared on Facebook and it was talked about,” he said.
“Big crises in our lives require big actions,” Mendoza said. “We saw that in the walkout, in standing in solidarity with one another, in listening to one another.”
Joseph Flores ’20 said he attended the walkout to stand up for affected members both at the College and in his hometown. “It affects people I love,” he said.
For him, an important aspect of the walkout was that it brought people together. “People were talking and sharing their experiences,” he said. “People are seeing how deeply it affects their friends, and they will be much more inclined to take action.”
Tellez said she engaged with the walkout from a place of frustration and anger, since her “immediate communities are threatened.” Anger, she said, is the appropriate response to the president-elect’s policies, and that anger motivated her, as well as others, to take action.
“The law is not always just,” Tellez said. “We should be angry at injustice. We should be angry about racism.”
Organizers said they would continue the student mobilization that began at the walkout.
“It gave us a large platform to air our voice,” Serrano said. “It was about saying we are here for each other, and now it’s time to move.”