Westminster College became the first safe haven campus in Utah for undocumented students on Dec. 9—more than a month before President Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily blocking immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries. Though a federal appeals court ruled in favor of a temporary freeze on the order at the beginning of February, Trump indicated his desire on Twitter to appeal the court’s decision further, writing “SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!”
Amidst the chaos, Westminster’s administration and ASW members said they have been working and researching to implement a plan of action to keep immigrant and refugee students on campus safe, and they hosted a Safe Haven Forum on Jan. 30 to generate student input on the matter.
The Safe Haven Forum was centered around students’ concerns with the government’s effects on Westminster. Ben Pok, ASW president, said he has worked diligently with the senior chairs and students to provide a better understanding of the “Safe Haven” initiative moving forward.
“I think the biggest problem that everybody faces on this campus is the fact that we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Pok said. “There’s rumors that [Trump] is going to repeal DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). Just as other schools in the country are panicking, I think we will as well, but we are ahead of the curve because we have been working on this since last semester.”
The University of Utah and Utah State University have both released statements regarding international students, urging them not to leave the United States if they want to continue their education—because there’s no guarantee they will be let back into the country.
It’s not just DACA students who could be affected. International students said they are also concerned for their education, even with an F1 student visa.
Westminster College President Steve Morgan spoke at the Safe Haven Forum to reassure students, faculty and staff that the college is working toward solutions.
“I want everyone to know that we did quite a bit of thinking on this,” Morgan said. “It’s hard to really anticipate what the next few months might look like as the Trump administration starts to roll out. I know it’s really unsettling for all of us. It’s unsettling for me as the president of this college community to decide what best we can do to help, first and foremost our students, and make sure that they feel safe and that they have the opportunity to finish their education.”
Upwards of 500 signatures from students and community members petitioned for Westminster to become a “sanctuary campus.” Morgan received this petition and said he rejected it after finding no legal definition of a sanctuary campus and amidst concerns that so-called sanctuary cities were in jeopardy of losing federal funding. Morgan said he and the rest of the administration came up with the term “safe haven” to create a definition unique to Westminster’s needs.
“What the administration has decided is rather than focusing on the term, terminology of what we want to be called, lets focus on the steps we’re going to take to protect and provide for our students.” Pok said.
Students, senior chair members and faculty who attended the Safe Haven Forum stated their concerns and asked questions for what is to come in the new few months for Westminster’s campus.
“There is so much more work to be done, and we recognize that,” said Dr. Marco Barker, associate vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Westminster’s administration said it will continue to host Safe Haven forums to discuss issues and act upon them as executive orders continue to arise. They said students are encouraged to attend and express their concerns to have peace of mind that the Westminster community will back its students 100 percent.