September 11, 2017

Protecting and Supporting Students


Below is a letter I wrote to a student who asked me several questions in writing last Sunday evening.  As you work with students this week and next, it may be helpful to have some of the information it contains.

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Thank you for your genuine expression of concern for undocumented and DACA students who feel a heightened sense of vulnerability following the presidential election.  I write in return to reassure you of the College’s evolving understanding of the issues at hand and to express my unwavering personal commitment as your President to assist and support students through these uncertain times.  

As an institution of higher education, Guilford College must play a leadership role in safeguarding the free exchange of ideas and providing models for fostering respectful dialogue across ideological differences.  Foremost among the Quaker testimonies that guided our Founders is the belief that there is “that of God” in everyone, that all people possess “inner light.”  From this idea follows an essential principle: the commitment to the mutual respect of all individuals, holding in high regard the intellectual, physical, and emotional well-being of each and every person at all times.  Mutual respect grounds our recognition that all people are equal regardless of national origin or ethnicity, citizenship, color, race, gender expression, sexual orientation, gender or disability.  Our community dedicates itself to inclusiveness and diversity.  There is no place for discrimination, hate speech, or intimidation at Guilford College.

Any student who feels intimidated, harassed or the victim of a hate crime should immediately call Public Safety (336-316-2911).  Students should document the incident to the best of their ability either through Public Safety, Student Affairs or by submitting a Bias Incident Report.  There is a link to the Bias Incident Report form at the top of the Buzz email every day.  Any student who feels intimidated or harassed should also consider having a supportive conversation with one of our counselors in the Counseling Center (336-316-2163).  

It is unclear at this time what if any changes will occur at the federal level that would affect us.  Nevertheless, Guilford College remains steadfastly committed to both the privacy and safety of our students, faculty, and staff.   As you may know, unlike other states and localities, North Carolina has not enacted any “sanctuary legislation,” and neither Guilford County nor Greensboro has a sanctuary ordinance or resolution.  Consequently, to the extent that establishing Guilford College as a sanctuary would mean open defiance of the law, doing so would serve to expose the people feeling most at risk and draw unnecessary attention to them.  That is not your intent, nor is it mine.  We both share a first commitment to the safety and security of all students.  

Every Campus a Refuge will continue to be supported.  You will be glad to know that neighboring Quaker meetings are also helping refugee families from Syria.

Guilford College publicly supports and will continue to support DACA, as outlined in the Statement in Support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program and our Undocumented Students, which the presidents of more than 200 colleges and universities have signed, including Guilford College.  Also, I note that the 2011 memorandum from (then) Director John Morton of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (cited in your memorandum) directs that before enforcement action takes place on a college campus, the planned activity must undergo heightened review and approval.  If Guilford College learns of any proposed enforcement action directed at our school, I will insist upon compliance with the safeguards in this memorandum.  

Ironically, while anticipated federal action causes us the most uncertainty, established federal law protects our students.  The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) prohibits the nonconsensual disclosure of personally identifiable information from educational records with few exceptions.  The College intends to comply fully with FERPA and will not voluntarily release any such information to those who would seek to deport our students, absent student consent or valid legal process, such as a court order.  

As always, but with renewed vigor, we will enforce our student misconduct policies, our nondiscrimination policy, and our policy against unlawful harassment.  While I hope it is unlikely, if necessary, the College will also use the resources of federal, state and local law enforcement.  The Federal Bureau of Investigation defines “hate crime” as "a criminal offense committed against a person, property, or society that is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender's bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity/national origin." Sanctions for this wrong are severe. Very simply, we will not tolerate this type of violation on our campus.

The College will fully comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The Act provides that “[n]o person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”   As President John F. Kennedy said in 1963:  “Simple justice requires that public funds, to which all taxpayers of all races [colors, and national origins] contribute, not be spent in any fashion which encourages, entrenches, subsidizes or results in racial [color or national origin] discrimination.”   

The Department of Justice explains on its website:

“Federal laws prohibit discrimination based on a person's national origin, race, color, religion, disability, sex, and familial status. Laws prohibiting national origin discrimination make it illegal to discriminate because of a person's birthplace, ancestry, culture or language. This means people cannot be denied equal opportunity because they or their family are from another country, because they have a name or accent associated with a national origin group, because they participate in certain customs associated with a national origin group, or because they are married to or associate with people of a certain national origin.”

Therefore, Guilford College will continue to provide promised funding to our students, regardless of national origin.  As long as I am the president, I am committed to raising funds to support undocumented students and all others with a need.  Likewise, all students will be treated equally in matters of admission, housing, privacy and all other ways.

While I am sympathetic to your request for additional staff at the Bonner Center, our current budget will not allow that.  As our financial status improves, we may be able to consider requests for new positions and we will follow our procedures for approval of them.
 
I will continue to meet with students and members of our extended community, individually or in small groups, who have expressed concerns during this time of presidential transition, and at any point in the future whenever there is a need to communicate directly.  It is imperative that we remain committed to our values and each other as we address the profound and compelling concerns of the Guilford College community.
 
Sincerely,

Jane K. Fernandes
President