April 8, 2016
Dear [Career Center Director],
I left you a voice mail yesterday regarding the career fair. As I mentioned, I wanted to write an email to you elaborating some of the dynamics that occurred yesterday. I am a Sociology professor and also a long-time advisor for the student club STAND, which supports and advocates for undocumented students and students in mixed immigration status families. Students protested the Border Patrol at the career fair. I would like to offer my perspective on the developments of the day’s events. Most importantly, my hope in writing this detailed account is that we can work together on finding some solutions and collaborating. The Career Center is so important to the students’ current and future journey!
I arrived to campus yesterday at almost 11am, after 2 hours of volunteer work in our community that morning. My first view on campus was a Border Patrol SUV parked in Cesar Chavez drop-off circle next to the student union. There were also three police cars parked along the circular drop off area. My heart froze because I immediately became concerned for our students’ safety and wellbeing. I drove around the cars twice but there was no one inside.
When I parked in the parking garage, I texted Julio (STAND president) and let him know what I saw, ask where he was and if he (and others) were okay, and let him know that I was calling the campus police to find out what was going on. Later, I found out he was in class when I texted him. I called to the campus police and headed to my building (SBSB). (From 11am to 1pm, I had several meetings in the capacity of the graduate coordinator along with meeting about some graduate student issues.)
Once I crossed over the bridge, I saw an A-frame advertising the career fair. I realized (and texted Julio) that Border Patrol and law enforcement agencies were likely on campus for this event. Sergeant Tim from campus police called me back to confirm that their presence on campus was for a career fair.
I then received messages from Julio saying that he went to check on the career fair and that Border Patrol (along with many other law enforcement agencies) were there in full uniform, with dogs, and all in a row. Julio reported to me via text how upsetting it was to have Border Patrol in his learning and work space. He gathered students to assemble an impromptu protest to let Border Patrol know their practices in our community were unjust and detrimental. He and some other students made signs and walked over to the career fair. Based on the accounts from the staff members and faculty members who were present as observers/allies, the students were clear about their message and non-violent. They held signs and chanted.
Note: The allies/observers took numerous photos and video as the events transpired, which is now a commonplace practice, in case anything escalated at the career fair. We know that protest events on college campuses can result in students being the victims of excessive use of force (e.g., Kent State in 1970 during a protest against the Vietnam War and UC Davis in 2011 during an on-campus Occupy movement protest).
This brings me to the concern I have with how Border Patrol responded to our students. As seen in the photograph attached in this email, the Border Patrol agent began filming and taking photographs of those protesting. As a professor, I believe the students have a right to voice their opinion and to do so in the relative safety of their own university. However, the Border Patrol officer’s response of taking photographs of protesters was quite an intimidating tactic, given some of those protesting were undocumented students. Major questions I have are:
- What happened to the photographs and video footage?
- What will Border Patrol do with them?
- Who was there from CSUSM to communicate with the Border Patrol as to appropriate behavior when interacting with students on campus, even those who are protesting their agencies?
Given the “Black Lives Matter” and the “Not One More Deportation” national social movements, the university and units on campus must realize that we cannot operate in the same way as before. Many of our students are involved in social justice movements outside of campus. I am proud of the social change that many of our students have implemented on our very campus.
Additionally, we have particular circumstances in our region. Border Patrol and Homeland Security (ICE) are patrolling the neighborhoods in our communities. We have record numbers of deportations in our region and nationally. At San Marcos Elementary school, parental deportation is no longer a crisis but a weekly occurrence. Additionally, educational stakeholders and families have reported to me the Border Patrol presence at school drop off and pick up times in our region. It is a really scary situation for our students. Research shows that interactions immigration enforcement, deportation, and detention have powerful and immediate negative effects on mental health. The visceral fear and trauma of seeing Border Patrol on our campus by our students cannot be underestimated.
I can guess that this reactions from students was unanticipated by the career fair organizers. So, this is why I hope we can work together to come to a better understanding of students’ experiences and perhaps put some protocols in place to make the career fair the meaningful experience it was mean to be for all students. I would like to offer these ideas consider as a starting point:
- • Where law enforcement agencies choose to park has a chilling effect on students. Recommendation: Requiring them to park with all the other visitors to campus.
- • Law enforcement taking photographs and filming of students exercising their right to respond to injustices perpetuated by these agencies. Recommendation: Protocols about student engagement for career fairs by law enforcement agencies and Homeland Security entities.
Finally, the issue of students’ voice and protest at the career fair is more than the issue of immigration and law enforcement. Imagine that the environmental student club protested the Monsato representatives on campus for a career fair. How does the Career Center interact with social justice-oriented student clubs on campus? What protocols and training are in place to handle conflict at career fairs (or other campus events)? What protections do our students have in voicing their outrage and pain?
Our university vision states, “Our curriculum will emphasize a strong foundation in the liberal arts and sciences while it provides the knowledge, skills, competencies and experiences needed in a global society experiencing accelerated technological, social, and environmental change.” We need to account that all of our students are able to identify unfair practices occurring in our region and abroad, and then they link them to agencies or entities that are carrying out these injustices.
The CSUSM values “Intellectual Engagement” which is defined as “learning, teaching, discovery, and application of knowledge.” I believe our job is to empower students to develop their critical thinking skills so that they will be well-equipped to improve our world for future generations. Yesterday was a compelling example of students’ critical thinking and a social justice response to inequality. However, non-campus entities seemingly tried to intimidate students as they exercised their voice. Unfortunately, there seemed to be a lack of CSUSM leadership at the event (from the career fair organizers present and administrators who arrived) to advocate directly on behalf of our students to the guests who were engaged in the intimidation. The students report not being supported but rather the focus was on the protection of the career fair event. The support felt by students was from a couple of staff members and a faculty member who the students explicitly asked to act as observers, in case anything went wrong.
As Julio and I concluded yesterday, the career fair and protest happened. It is over. However, we both hope that we can collaborate with the Career Center and other campus entities to discuss the concerns presented here in this email. In particular, we hope that we can establish clear guidelines and protocols that benefit and support our students for future campus events.
Thank you for your consideration,
Monday, April 11, 2016
Conversations and investigations are happening here at CSUSM. For example, faculty at CSUSM are discussing the process to become a sanctuary space for undocumented students. Thoughtful planning and consideration of social justice concerns are required for all campus events. It also speaks to the need for institutionalizing ally training and professional development opportunities across campus related to undocumented students.
Additionally, over the weekend I have had more time to think about the issue. Border Patrol and ICE don't just cause alarm for undocumented students, but also for the many students staff, visitors, school children visiting, and faculty who have experienced extraordinary surveillance and enforcement efforts in their communities along with deportation of family members and friends. In North County San Diego, this is likely a concern for many of our campus community members.