Over one hundred Brooklyn College faculty members penned President Anderson a letter last week, urging the administration to take stronger action in protecting students from possible backlash of Trump’s recent threats and executive orders.
The letter, which had garnered 110 faculty member signatures, expressed concern for Muslim students on campus following Trump’s executive order banning immigrants from seven different predominantly Muslim countries and his threats of defunding sanctuary cities, both of which could negatively affect students at Brooklyn College.
“Given the climate of Islamophobia and anti-immigrant targeting the Trump administration has bolstered — and given the incredible and incredibly diverse student body at Brooklyn College — this seems like an important moment for Brooklyn College to lead in opposing these discriminatory policies and the chilling climate they produce for our students,” said Jeanne Theoharis, professor of political science and a contributor to composing the letter.
Suggestions made to Anderson by faculty were to keep open communication with Muslim student leaders, and join other university presidents in writing Trump a letter asking to repeal and rectify his executive orders (as 48 university presidents have and not one from CUNY). After a campus-wide message was circulated from Anderson ensuring the pursuit of a safe learning environment for students in the wake of executive orders, the faculty was disheartened that the message failed to mention the word “Muslim” once in addressing the actual target of Trump’s new policy.
More concerning for the faculty was the lack of a public condemnation by administration following the unethical surveillance of Muslim students on campus by the NYPD in 2015, when an undercover cop “converted” to Islam to spy on students. Recent executive orders will feed into an already paranoid student body and will likely “…lead to further surveillance and targeting of Muslims in the U.S., and Muslim students and student associations in particular,” as according to faculty.
“CUNY public silence on last year’s revelations of four years of undercover spying on campus (while decrying it privately and in meetings) sends a troubling message that we tolerate this targeting of our students — and from what we have seen in these first weeks of the Trump presidency, this is only going to escalate,” the letter stated. “We need more concrete action from you and are willing to meet and work with you closely on a set of actions to support our students.”
Lastly, the letter stressed to pursue initiatives across CUNY to “devote material assistance to affected students.” One program mentioned was the CUNY CLEAR program (Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility) which aims to address legal needs of students, Muslims in particular, who have been affected by “national security and counterterrorism policies and practices.” The program provides legal assistance, facilitates workshops and partners with community organizations to best help students, but has been overwhelmed by recent political circumstance and needs assistance from the university.
Anderson’s prompt response to the faculty letter showed an affinity for the issues presented and expressed a shared concern for students.
“Since becoming president at Brooklyn College, I have used the voice of the office to encourage a cultural shift that your colleagues across the campus identified as important,” responded Anderson. “Both Muslim and Jewish students have expressed that they feel fear and hostility directed at them because of their religious identity. Brooklyn College must respond to and alleviate their sustained sense of vulnerability.”
Anderson described that she has met with Muslim student leaders to identify student needs and in response to undercover surveillance stated that, “the NYPD agreed to binding reforms, including prohibitions on religious discrimination, safeguards to constrain intrusive investigations, limits on the use of undercover officers and informants, and the appointment of a civilian attorney for ongoing oversight,” as according to a report issued by the CUNY CLEAR program.
According to Anderson’s response, a team from Brooklyn College has led an effort with CUNY Central to eliminate the access by faculty and staff advisors to students’ immigration status on CUNYfirst. Two events are also in the works to address student concerns, which will involve attorneys from the CLEAR program as well as the Center for Constitutional Rights.
“I want to build a relationship with you in which I understand your perspectives so that I can best serve Brooklyn College,” said Anderson. “In the meantime, I want you to know that I am grateful for the hard work you are engaged in to support our students and to make our campus a more peaceful and intellectually vibrant place.”
There is still uncertainty on the national stage as a federal court ruled against Trump’s travel ban — though it has been reported that a new and slightly revised executive order is being crafted — adhering more closely to the federal court’s ruling.
Two draft memos signed on Friday by the secretary of homeland security, John F. Kelly, have outlined the as-promised executive order on immigration, which could have adverse effects on Brooklyn College immigrant students as well. According to an article published by The New York Times, the new policy is rumored to be sympathetic to DACA recipients (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), but not their family members. And the sanctuary status of New York City, as well as CUNY, puts Brooklyn College in the line of fire for targets of defunding.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio have publicly stated to New Yorkers that they will combat threats of New York City’s sanctuary status, similar to CUNY Chancellor James B. Milliken, who assured students and faculty that their “commitment to protecting and supporting our students, regardless of their immigration status, is unwavering….”
Faculty at Brooklyn College have proven to continually show that their efforts to protect students has been unwavering as well, conducting workshops, hosting forums, working with individual students to address their concerns, and now personally urging President Anderson to take stronger action.
“While we know you personally share our repugnance at such targeting, we need you to speak out as BC president boldly and specifically against the impacts of this ban on Muslim students, faculty, staff and their families and the targeting of Muslim students,” the letter stated. Faculty members expressed that they will continue to resist and request resistance from administration to protect their students from harmful political actions.
“Brooklyn College is in a position to lead CUNY, if not the nation among public universities, to implement bold plans that would address barriers faced by groups whose experiences are entangled,” said Professor Alan Aja, acting chairperson of Puerto Rican and Latino studies and contributor to the faculty letter. “By ensuring that Arab/Muslim, out of status students [undocumented], students of color unjustly subject to broken windows policing, and other targeted groups are specifically protected from harassment from federal to state authorities it by default universally protects all students.”