My earliest memory of the word “sanctuary” is my memory of the many times as a child when I walked up to the sanctuary of our church, along with so many others — rich and poor, locals and foreigners, old and young, conservative and progressive — to approach a place where we broke bread together. Sanctuary for me has never been primarily a political word; it has been a sacred word that Columbia Gorge Community College should embrace, because it embodies a willingness to stand on that sacred ground where we are all equal, all welcome, no matter what our status.
Later, my understanding of the word “sanctuary” expanded when I visited bird and wildlife sanctuaries, public places where endangered populations were protected and allowed to thrive. Sanctuary is a beautiful word in many languages; it is not a dangerous word, and certainly not an illegal word, definitely not an un-American word. Let’s embrace the word “sanctuary” as an embodiment of who we are for each other. Sanctuary is the word that best embodies CGCC’s willingness not only to have correct policies and services, but our willingness to actively celebrate those policies in a welcoming and courageous way.
Recently, CGCC has become one of over 400 colleges that have been designated by the federal government as a “Hispanic-serving institution.” It is with immense pride that I remind my neighbors and friends that CGCC is the only public educational institute in Oregon that has been designated with this honor. Along with the honor comes a public responsibility to state in the clearest voice possible that we are proud to welcome all students to our college. No one should feel fear or intimidation when they enter our campus. Indeed, this designation commits us to work even harder to increase enrollment and services to all under-served populations. We now have a unique opportunity to publicly state in no uncertain terms that we, a Hispanic-serving institution are uncompromisingly dedicated to this vulnerable population. By declaring CGCC a sanctuary campus, we are publicly standing with all our students that feel they may be vulnerable if they risk attending our campus.
CGCC no longer has the luxury of voting “No” and thinking that we are just voting to maintain the status quo. A “No” vote will send an unfortunate message to our vulnerable students that CGCC is not a sanctuary for them. Perhaps a year ago, we could have been satisfied with merely listing all our policies and support services on our CGCC website and that would have been sufficient. But this is a different historical moment and our most vulnerable students want to know, “Are you with us, or not? Are you going to make this decision out of exaggerated fear or unlikely financial reprisals, or are you going to bravely declare, ‘We are an academic family that will take care of each other. We are a sanctuary for you.’”
Patrick Rawson has been an instructor at Columbia Gorge Community College for 27 years.