On Wednesday, a small group of students met with President Clayton Rose to present a petition with seven demands of the College in response to the policies of the Trump administration, particularly President Donald Trump’s January 27 immigration ban. Rose made it clear that the College is already meeting most, if not all, of the demands put forth by the students. The organizers have also planned a rally in the David Saul Smith Union today—which coincides with the Trustees meeting on campus—where they plan to speak more about the meeting and the demands of the petition.
The petition outlined a number of steps that the organizers wanted the administration to take, including providing pro bono immigration lawyers for students who may be impacted by the ban, guaranteeing full financial assistance to students who may lose federal aid and to students whose family financial support may be upended during Trump’s tenure and beyond. It also asks the College to advocate for citizenship for undocumented students and for the administration to be more transparent with the Bowdoin community about how it supports students and resists aspects of Trump’s policies.
As a follow-up to his meeting with the roughly 10 student organizers, Rose sent them an email that addressed each of the demands specifically and outlined how the College is already meeting them.
Regarding to the call for the College to provide pro bono legal immigration lawyers to students, Rose pointed to the letter that he wrote to the campus on January 30 in which he stated that the College had identified students “who may be in jeopardy because of these new laws” and has been providing them with legal assistance at no cost. Rose also indicated in the letter that students should reach out to staff in human resources if they felt as though they were in need of legal consultation.
Regarding the organizers’ concerns about financial aid, Rose said in the email that the College fulfills the demonstrated need for all refugees, immigrants and international students with College resources and will annually replace lost federal aid for citizens and eligible non-citizens who may lose federal grant aid eligibility.
He also indicated that the College adjusts the aid granted to students if their family financial circumstances change.
On the topic of the call for the College to advocate for citizenship for undocumented students, Rose said in the email that he has and will continue to advocate for these students. He cited the letter that he wrote to the Bowdoin community on November 22, 2016 when he praised the role that students who are protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy and students who are undocumented play on college campuses across the country. In his email to the organizers he also pointed to a letter from February 2, 2017 sent to Trump that he signed along with the presidents of forty-seven other colleges and universities that urged the president to “rectify or rescind” the immigration ban.
Regarding the call for Rose to be more transparent with the Bowdoin community about how the College uses its power to support students, Rose pointed to the three messages that he has shared with campus since the election, writing that, “in each I have reinforced our values and discussed the actions we are taking to support members of our community.”
“I think that for me the big message is that the College has been doing virtually everything that the students are concerned about and I share their concerns, which is why we’ve been doing them,” Rose said in a phone interview with the Orient. “The other point that I made to them is that I’ve been talking about these things since November when these issues first surfaced as being real ... We will continue to try to stay ahead of helping our community think about these problems [and have an effect on them].”
Rose also reiterated how he will choose to engage with issues like the immigration ban.
“In my January note to the campus I said that there are two criteria that I will use, not exclusively, but in general, [to] guide when and how I’m going to engage,” said Rose. “One is whether members of our community are in some, way, shape or form threatened and the other is whether the mission of the College—our intellectual and academic mission—is threatened.”
The student organizers said that the meeting with Rose was productive and that they are happy with many of the steps that the College has already taken to support students. However, they hope that the College is more clear about the steps that it is taking in response to policies like the immigration ban moving forward.
“I think when it comes to transparency that’s an overarching theme not just for this particular petition but also for a lot of things on campus where students don’t know of the resources—whether they exist or not—and that sort of creates … unnecessary difficulties for their time on campus,” said OSA Omoregie ’18, one of the petition organizers. “And that by informing [Rose] of these kinds of things it actually opens his eyes to [the fact that] there are a number of things where [the administration] think[s] that students know and [students] don’t and that [they] could just be more clear about that.”
The student organizers indicated that a greater level of communication and transparency from the College could help to alleviate worries of current students, such as for students who feel as though their immigration status might be at risk. They said that the impetus for the petition rested on anecdotes from students who were unsure of how the administration is supporting them.
“I think one of the most important things that came out of the meeting was the fact that there are pro bono lawyers that are offered to students here,” said Kiki Nakamura-Koyama ’17, another student who helped organization. “What we were initially worried about was that these lawyers were only accessible to the students who the administration had identified as vulnerable but now that President Rose has explicitly said that these pro bono lawyers are offered to students and students can access them by contacting different resource centers, I feel that the meeting was a success.”
Nakamura-Koyama said that a large part of why she helped organize the petition and set up the meeting with Rose was that the action being taken at and by other colleges made her feel as though Bowdoin’s response was lacking.
“I think that the transparency of other colleges made me personally feel like Bowdoin wasn’t doing enough,” said Nakamura-Koyama. “But in a way, by having this meeting it doesn’t necessarily make the College look bad. It’s actually making the College look really good because the students that signed the petition were able to show the administration that we think the administration is lacking in certain areas when in actuality they’re doing a lot more than we thought they were.”
The organizers of the petition also attended the Bowdoin Student Government meeting on Wednesday evening. They explained the goals of the petition and debriefed the meeting that they had with Rose, as well as gauged broader student support for the petition.
“It was clear that students were really supportive of the petition and wanted to find ways in which they could fill in those gaps or fill in the requests of the petition. I think if anything the Bowdoin Student Government showed what kind of school we go to,” said Nakamora-Koyama. “So even if the administration might not be willing to do something students are and students are trying to have the most impact that they can without the administration being involved.”
At the time the organizers met with Rose the petition had 308 signatures. As of Thursday night it had 322 signatures.
An older version of the petition had indicated that the signees would participate in a walk-out from classes should the demands go unmet. After students expressed concern over this particular tactic, the organizers decided to not pursue a walk-out and organized the rally in Smith Union instead.
The organizers said that the fate of the petition will depend on what students say at the rally in Smith Union on Friday.
“[The petition] depends on the student body’s response and if students see that President Rose still hasn’t done enough and there are ways in which he still hasn’t done enough then absolutely we would be there to stand with whoever thought that President Rose could do more and the reasons why because I feel like the College should always be pushed to be better,” said Nakamura-Koyama.
In the phone interview, Rose expressed his support for the rally.
“I think it’s great for students to come together to talk about the things they care deeply about and to try to figure out how to have some impact on the problem, and [if this meeting] will be helpful in some regard then I think that’s fantastic,” he said.
Rose said that the meetings with the Trustees will be going on during the rally and that he regretted that he probably would not be able to attend, but that the Trustees will likely discuss the immigration ban and the petition.