In a preemptive response to a student petition calling on college administrators to make Bowdoin a sanctuary campus, President Clayton Rose affirmed the College’s support for undocumented students but stated that the College could not meet the criteria to become a sanctuary campus. The students involved in writing and circulating the petition are still planning on presenting the petition to Rose today. 

“The stakes for [undocumented] students who may be at risk have never been higher, and we have an obligation as a college to make sure that we are straight with our students about what we can and cannot do for them. And we will do everything we can within our power to assist them,” he said in a phone interview with the Orient. “But there are things that may be legally out of our ability to control. In those circumstances, students need to understand that and to be prepared.”

Seniors Leah Alper and Julia Berkman-Hill began circulating the petition that called on college administrators to “stand with other colleges and universities and investigate how to make Bowdoin a sanctuary campus that will protect our current and future students from intimidation, unfair investigation, and deportation.” As of press time, 870 Bowdoin students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members had signed it. 

The petition and Rose’s response—delivered through a campus-wide email on November 22—come at a time when many higher education institutions are grappling with how to respond to potential changes in immigration policy under the presidency of Donald Trump. Changes could include increased immigration enforcement and a repeal of President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which shields undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children from deportation. 

Along with over 400 other college presidents, Rose signed a statement on November 21 in support of upholding DACA. Moreover, Rose wrote in his email to the College that “unless compelled by law, [the College] will do nothing that would put a member of our community in … jeopardy.”

However, Rose also felt strongly that it would be wrong to declare Bowdoin a sanctuary campus. 

“The question presented by this petition (and by others like it) is whether Bowdoin or other colleges and universities could effectively declare our campuses to be havens where immigration laws cannot be enforced. Legal counsel tells us that we have no such power, so to make this kind of declaration would be both disingenuous and falsely reassuring,” he wrote in his email. 

Despite Rose’s commitment to not designating Bowdoin a sanctuary campus, Alper plans to present the petition to him today. She pointed to other colleges and universities that have declared as sanctuary campuses. 

“Wesleyan has declared as a sanctuary campus … [and] places like Columbia have declared as sanctuary campuses,” she said. “If you look at [President Rose’s] email and compare it to the statements made by the other 28 college presidents who have declared as sanctuary campuses, the language is very similar.”

For Alper, the sanctuary designation is part of a larger movement and carries symbolic weight. 

“This is a declaration that undocumented students belong on campus and will be welcomed here,” she said. “The more schools that sign onto it will not only help students on our campus but also potentially students on other campuses.”

Alper, along with a larger group of students, is looking forward to having a conversation with Rose about College policies under a Trump presidency. 

“We are just thinking about what does Bowdoin need in all realms—not just undocumented students,” said Alper. “Something that I’m personally interested in is making sure that birth control is covered under Bowdoin’s insurance—even if it’s not required to be.”

Moving forward, Rose declined to speculate about how the College would respond to specific changes in immigration policy before they occurred. However, he did say that the College would “provide support in a number of different areas for those of our students who may be in these at-risk categories.”

This could include helping at-risk students get access to legal counsel as well as continuing the policies that Rose mentioned in his campus-wide email.

“The College already safeguards student privacy and confidentiality. We do not discriminate with regard to student housing, nor do we use E-Verify, and our Safety and Security personnel do not enforce immigration laws or make inquiries about the immigration status of students or employees,” he wrote.