I proudly stand with the 48 (and counting) other Columbia Gorge Community College faculty who have petitioned President Frank Toda, and by extension the college’s Board of Education, to designate CGCC as a Sanctuary College, joining Oregon State University, the University of Oregon, Portland State University, Portland Community College, and many colleges nationally. Our faculty coalition asks that, as a Sanctuary College, CGCC:
• Be 100 percent committed — no less than that — to the protection of all of its students, including undocumented student immigrants and students who qualify as Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA);
• Continue to decline to provide information to assist the federal government with deportation of any students;
• Will in no way assist the U.S. Department of Homeland Security or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) with federal immigration law;
• Will oppose any change in federal law requiring it to aid the federal government in immigration law enforcement.
We have submitted our petition to Dr. Toda, and the board is scheduled to take it up at its March 14 meeting — 6 p.m. in the board room of Building 1 on The Dalles campus. The meeting is open to the public. If the community favors CGCC being a Sanctuary College, the CGCC board needs to know that.
This is not a cut-and-dry conflict of caring or not caring for our local Latino community. Dr. Toda shows in a “Declaration of Open Access and Protection” that he cares, and he maintains that by publishing the declaration on its website, CGCC will be a Sanctuary College in all but name (“the S word”). Our faculty coalition believes the college should go further than that, given the immense symbolic value of the word “sanctuary” to the Latino community.
The basic difference between the faculty coalition and Dr. Toda appears to be courage vs. caution. We faculty are urging courage — to let our Latino community know we will do all we can, including using the S word — to protect them. Dr. Toda is urging caution, asking what’s the real need for this — why risk angering the Trump administration and jeopardizing our federal aid — when there are already protections for our Latino students.
(How much CGCC receives in federal aid is a moving target, varying from year to year. Much of it — currently about $3 million — is financial aid, like Pell Grants, to students.)
Some protections for students are guaranteed by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which applies to schools receiving federal funds and protects the privacy of student education records — although federal agents can still access records with a court order.
We faculty believe FERPA is not enough to make our students feel safe. FERPA means virtually nothing to the Latino community, especially those who are undocumented. There is widespread fear that federal agents will come after them, as has happened locally but has not been publicized. As a local Anglo-Latino cooperation committee of Gorge Ecumenical Ministries knows first-hand, fear in our Latino community is far greater than non-Latinos realize.
CGCC instructors hear of that fear in their classes, and it shows up in program enrollments. In the 2016 Winter Term, the college’s English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program had 110 students, almost all Latinos. Winter Term, it has 44.
Statistics are scant, but certainly Hood River County is one of Oregon’s most Latino counties. This school year, 43.6 percent of the 4,082 students in the Hood River County School District’s eight schools are Latino. According to Census figures, 31 percent of Hood River County was Latino as of July 1, 2015. (There is speculation that’s an undercount because some Latinos, especially undocumented ones fearing disclosure, did not fill out a Census form.)
We urge Dr. Toda and the CGCC board to show courage, use the S word, and designate CGCC a Sanctuary College. It would be an important further step toward making our Latino students feel safe.
Tom Kaser has been a CGCC writing instructor for 18 years.