Students mobilize in light of offensive flyers; admin sends campus-wide email
February 1, 2018
Bubbling frustration over anti-immigration posters found on Jan. 21 has spurred campus groups into action.
The Undocumented Students and Allies Association (USAA) is at the forefront of the mobilization, hoping to use this an opportunity to show the administration why the goals they’ve been working toward since their inception in 2016 are necessary.
“Our goal has always been to get a resource center where undocumented and mixed status students can feel safe and get the resources they need to be successful,” said senior Marlene Cerritos, co-chair of USAA. “Whether that is obtaining resources for healing or legal help, or coping mechanisms for when something like this happens.”
USAA also advocates hiring a paid staff member to address immigration issues and educate the larger Santa Clara community so that the responsibility doesn’t fall on students.
This is a tendency the Blue Ribbon Commission for Diversity and Inclusion found, noting that “SCU community members also acknowledge that a disproportionate burden is placed on students of color to foster more inclusive environments.” The report cites the Rainbow Resource Center as an example of students running operations in roles typically staffed by full-time professionals at comparable universities.
Initially, students were frustrated with the lack of administrative response on the matter. Then Vice Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dennis Jacobs released a statement to the campus on Jan. 25, also released to outside media, calling for civic discourse.
According to Jacobs, he learned about the incident on Monday and was later “dismayed” when he saw a copy of the poster because it “co-opted a phrase (“#NoMeansNo”) commonly associated with the critical fight to end sexual assault, and used it to provoke a visceral anti-immigrant sentiment.”
“I chose to write to the campus community, because I saw how discourse across the political divide at SCU was quickly degrading into accusations and attacks that resembled the lobbing of hand grenades,” Jacobs said. “As we see in national politics, the all-too-common impulse has been to demonize or tune out those who do not subscribe to one’s own point of view, rather than to listen with respect to the opinions and concerns of the ‘other.’ As tense as the current political climate is, Santa Clara University has a responsibility, now more than ever, to model civil discourse and equip our students with the ability to navigate diversity of thought.”
On Jan. 30, nine days after the posters were found, university President Michael Engh, S.J. also released a statement. He too emphasized the importance of civil discourse and condemned the posters for not providing “a means for dialogue among those with different opinions.”
“It makes a statement, but does not promote discourse or allow for the expression of differences of viewpoints and beliefs,” Engh said. “It does not encourage constructive dialogue, but hides in the shadows and it insults by demeaning those whom it rejects. Such a poster is unworthy of this campus where we seek to bring students together.”
The email seemed to send mixed messages to some students.
“The university will always encourage civil discourse because it benefits their image,” Cerritos said. “But they are always leaving it up to the students to address these issues and always encourage students to reach to the other side when we are the ones who are constantly being attacked by posters, signs or comments.”
In the email, Engh also revealed he will meet or has met with leaders from the Multicultural Center (MCC), USAA and College Republicans to better understand their concerns and experiences at Santa Clara.
“A place for civil discourse and the free exchange of ideas is necessary here at Santa Clara, especially because this is a place of learning,” sophomore Sydney Altobell said, president of SCU College Republicans. “Fr. Engh is wrong when he says the posters do not encourage constructive dialogue because, ironically, they have sparked the start of a constructive conversation about our campus climate.”
Some feel the administrative response has come too late and without tangible action.
“I just believe this cycle is exhausting for marginalized students—and it’s not our job to defend ourselves and educate the rest of the Santa Clara community,” Cerritos said. “I’m glad Fr. Engh is going to listen to students but it makes me wonder if he has been listening to us all along. This isn’t the first time this has happened and it won’t be the last.”
The Office of Student Life is currently undergoing an investigation of the incident since the flyers were in violation of the university’s postings policy.
The policy states that all posted materials must be approved first and must not be in violation of sections five or 10 of the Student Conduct Code. Section five prohibits “disorderly, lewd, indecent, or obscene conduct” and section 10 prohibits “hazing, harassing, threatening, bullying, degrading language or actions.”
It is unclear whether the posters fall into the category of a bias incident, an ambiguity in the written rules ASG is actively working to clarify. Since it is a student conduct issue, both the identity of anyone involved and the consequences are confidential.
But, for many, finding out who originally posted the flyers has never been the point.
“We as students understand we’re not going to be able to get those specific details and I don’t think folks are really concerned with that,” said MCC Director Zerreen Kazi. “It’s more like how can we support the students that are affected, regardless of who specifically did it because it is part of a larger system. It’s not just this one incident that has caused damage.”
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