As Admit Weekend kicked off Thursday, students from four campus activist groups took the stage at the University’s official Welcome event in Memorial Auditorium to protest for increased University support for undocumented students.
About a dozen students from Stanford Sanctuary Now (SSN), Students for the Liberation of All People (SLAP), MEChA de Stanford and the Stanford Student and Labor Alliance (SALA) stepped onstage bearing cardboard signs as Provost Persis Drell addressed prospective freshmen (ProFros) and their families.
The students remained for roughly an hour through a series of administrators’ speeches, staying silent during the talks but chanting during intermissions and taking up a mantra of their own when Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Richard Shaw tried to lead admits in a chant.
“It’s really about accountability,” said Doris Rodriguez ’20, one of the activists and a recently elected ASSU senator. “We were there to show our presence, to show the ProFros [who are] being told this school is perfect… there’s a lot that Stanford needs to do better, and we’re not afraid to call Stanford out on that.”
The protesters have called for a variety of University actions related to immigration. SSN’s agenda, supported by the other groups demonstrating, advocates measures ranging from Stanford’s divestment from private prisons to a pledge to fully fund deportation defense for students, workers and their families.
Earlier this year, SSN led an unsuccessful push for Stanford to declare itself a “sanctuary campus”— the University equivalent of “sanctuary cities,” which generally refuse to enforce federal immigration laws with local funding. Although the University declined the official sanctuary label, it has promised to keep students’ and employees’ records private unless legally forced and is providing immigration-related legal help to community members. Stanford spokesperson E.J. Miranda said the University cannot directly cover families’ legal needs, but will help them find other pro bono resources.
Amid the protest, administrators proceeded with their speeches and did not attempt to remove the students onstage, though Miranda later said the University was “disappointed” with the activists’ methods. Briefly addressing the situation during the event, Vice Provost Harry Elam told the crowd that the demonstration was unexpected but “shows something about Stanford,” according to Miranda and students present at the event.
“These students love Stanford,” Elam said, according to Miranda. “They may want something different of Stanford. They’re going to hold us to account, and we understand that. That is one of the things that makes this place so special.”
Rodriguez said that most of the audience was receptive to the protest, at some points cheering the demonstrators on. However, she said, one attendee who appeared to be a parent responded to one of their chants by calling out, “legal immigrants are welcome here.”
“All immigrants are welcome here,” the protesters chanted back, according to Rodriguez.
The activists exited the stage right before a student panel.
Miranda wrote in an email to The Daily that the University empathizes with the students’ concerns but takes issue with the protesting groups’ venue choice of Thursday’s central Admit Weekend event.
“These students have previously raised these issues and we have already extensively discussed them during in-person meetings and in other settings, so it is disappointing that they chose to disrupt an event that was so important to those attending,” Miranda wrote.
Miranda noted that the University is currently considering some of SSN’s priorities: For example, he said, a request to divest from private prisons is moving through the Advisory Panel on Investment Responsibility and Licensing (APIRL).
However, Rodriguez argued Stanford still has work to do to fully support the undocumented community, noting that Georgetown University, for example, has a center specifically for undocumented students. SSN’s demands call for increased University support for local undocumented immigrants, expanded professional opportunities and protections for Stanford immigrant workers and more.
Prospective students who attended the Welcome event had a variety of opinions on the protest.
“I’m glad they protested,” said Peter Caroline ’21. “More people, especially incoming freshmen, needed to see the difference they can make or should make.”
Hannes Boehning ’21, on the other hand, wished that the activists had protested outside the building. At first, he said, many ProFros thought the demonstration was part of the official event. He found the protest “irritating” because it distracted from the day’s speeches.
Rodriguez believed many ProFros were heartened by the demonstration. She recalled how one ProFro approached her and her fellow activists after the event to say he was “glad Stanford was a place where people speak up.”
“The biggest goal of today was bringing the conversation out for the incoming class,” Rodriguez said. “A lot of the time the activists graduate out. We want to keep the conversation going on with the incoming classes.”
Contact Hannah Knowles at hknowles ‘at’ stanford.edu.