Vice President of Student Access Declares WCC a “Sanctuary Campus”
In an interview on Dec. 9, Sara Thompson Tweedy, Vice President of Student Access, Involvement and Success at Westchester Community College, said it is essential for students “to educate [themselves]. We need to draw together for support and we need to figure out: what are the best ways that we can work together and not against each other.”
When asked to comment on a message to students Dean Tweedy had sent in November, stressing “mutual respect, tolerance and care” as the foundation of the college community, she said, “I would say that’s not anything new, we’ve always done that. Even prior to me sending this [message]. The services listed in the message are all the services we already had, and what I wanted to do was to remind students that we provide these services, to remind students that we want to promote a culture of mutual respect, tolerance, and care.”
“I was hearing from students, faculty, and staff that there was a lot of anxiety and in a time when there’s a lot of anxiety, I think it’s really important to remind students that they’re not alone and that we do provide services [to help them] and that we have staff and faculty who want to help take care of them and offer support,” explained Tweedy.
On how students can actively fight discrimination, Tweedy said clubs like NAMI “do a lot of great work to help students think about how to take care of themselves, emotionally and mentally.” According to Tweedy, GLOW meets on a regular basis and supports students who are in the LGBTQIA community. “Those two clubs in particular,” explained Tweedy, “act as support and advocacy for persons who are often discriminated against by majority culture and there are also a number of cultural clubs.”
“I think that, when a student group working with faculty and staff, promotes awareness, that’s fighting discrimination. And we’ve long been doing that at this college,” explained Tweedy.
Schools like Wesleyan University have been declared a “sanctuary campus”, according to Jake Lahut, features editor of The Wesleyan Argus, meaning the schools will not give out information to the government that could lead to deportations of students, staff or faculty.
When asked whether students can expect WCC to be declared a “sanctuary campus”, Tweedy responded, “The term sanctuary campus or sanctuary city is a very new phenomenon and I don’t think there’s a common definition of what it is exactly at this point. But I can tell you that what we don’t do at Westchester is collect information that would aid in an agency or someone trying to use that information for the purpose of deportation.”
According to Dean Tweedy, the government has not come asking for information to deport individuals. “I can just speak for myself when I say that, as far as I’m concerned, Westchester Community College will be a safe space for all people. This campus wants to operate, and we want to be a place that is safe for our students, our faculty, and our staff,” said Tweedy.
“You can expect that, if there comes a time where we need to declare that our student’s safety is our utmost priority, that this campus would do so. I don’t know how much a specific policy is going to do if it comes to [the government issuing deportations] because the federal government would walk right through any policy that a college has,” Tweedy explained.
“If we study social justice and social resistance movements, it wasn’t about developing policy,” says Tweedy, “It was about what individuals will do to protect their neighbors, their friends, and their communities. As we think about what might happen, it’s not about writing policies, it’s about how we treat one another and the lengths that an ordinary citizen is willing to go to protect their friends, their loved ones and their neighbors and to stand up and speak up for those who can’t do so for themselves. We need to act against what is happening, rather than write policies, including standing against some deportation force, if it were to happen.”
“Like everyone else I have these questions,” Tweedy explains, “What is the right thing to do? I recognize that there are some who are very afraid and maybe I can’t make that fear go away, but what I can say, and do, and model is that I am going to work for justice. I am going to stand on the side of the oppressed and that’s what I hope other people will do, too.”