At 1:35 p.m. on November 16, students all over campus rose to take a journey.
“I am walking out to Main Building,” many announced, “to sit in silence and to show solidarity with undocumented students and students of mixed-status families both at Notre Dame and across the nation.” A group of about 200 students, including myself, joined together to call on Father John Jenkins, C.S.C. to publicly acknowledge Notre Dame’s status as a sanctuary campus, and encourage other universities to follow Notre Dame’s example.
Jessica Pedroza, one of the Notre Dame student leaders organizing this event, said a group of on-campus activists were inspired to join the National Walkout for Sanctuary Campus movement, especially after an outpouring of on-campus support in the wake of last week’s election. “We knew it had to happen Wednesday because of the momentum,” she said. “So many people were asking how to get involved — plus, we were in contact with about a hundred students across the nation planning similar walkouts on their college campuses.”
I was one of those students looking to get involved. The president elect’s repeated threats to deport all undocumented immigrants pose a tangible threat to the Notre Dame, St. Mary’s, and Holy Cross communities. Each school has embraced undocumented students under the protection of DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which provides work visas and exemption from deportation. Because DACA was issued by executive order under President Barack Obama, it runs the risk of being overturned during president elect Trump’s first hundred days. A substantial plan of action from Father Jenkins seemed absolutely vital.
Faculty, staff and many of my fellow students — many dressed in black — joined together in an exodus from dorms, classroom buildings, and dining halls. Even though the event took place during class time, some professors read the opening statement aloud at 1:35 p.m. to signal their support of participating students. Participants made their way to God Quad, where a scene of peaceful protest awaited them.
A friendly, chattering crowd gathered, carrying signs bearing messages of solidarity with undocumented students. Two students unaffiliated with the protest held up a large Trump flag as protesters arrived, but left as soon as cameras began filming them. We took our seats directly in front of Main Building. Some sat on the paved ground, which was covered with supportive chalk-drawn messages, and some sat on the grass of God Quad (usually taboo, according to Notre Dame folklore, but exceptions were made on this unseasonably warm November day).
Usually, when protests reach this size, someone will speak right away to commence the event. But this day, as more and more joined the walkout, silence spread slowly over the crowd. The only noises we heard were far-off construction and the bells of the basilica. After several minutes, a group of student organizers took to the stairs of the Main Building to speak. Holding up a sign that said “Protect our peers,” the leaders, too, stood silent for a moment before addressing the crowd.
“Good afternoon, and thank you for gathering here in solidarity for undocumented students and their families,” began Aniela Tyksinski, speaking over the basilica bells chiming two o’clock.
“We gather here with hope that we can create a climate of inclusion and love, free of hostility and discrimination against any members of marginalized communities at Notre Dame, St. Mary’s, and Holy Cross,” said organizer Matthew Donohue. “Whether you voted Democrat, Republican, or otherwise, when one of us is persecuted, we are all persecuted.”
“In the past 24 hours, a petition that Notre Dame become a sanctuary campus has received 4,372 signatures from faculty, staff, and students at the university,” Armani Porter announced to our crowd’s cheers.
The students then presented a list of requests. One: declare Notre Dame a sanctuary campus that will actively refuse to cooperate with immigration authorities regarding deportation. Two: guarantee student privacy by refusing to release information regarding the immigration of students or faculty members to any government agency. Three: Create an undocumented student program with a full-time director and free on-campus access to legal counsel. Create funds to assist students, faculty, staff, and family members in need. Four: Ensure that all students have campuses, classes, and community experiences free of hostilities, oppressions, and bullying regarding immigration status. Communicate unequivocally and repeatedly that undocumented students are full members of the Notre Dame community.
As we continued to cheer in support, the student leaders joined arms and ascended the stairs of the Main Building — another broken taboo — to deliver this list to the administration. “Although it is a Notre Dame tradition that students not walk up the steps of Main Building until they graduate,” the group acknowledged, “this pressing matter and these uncertain times demand that we make exceptions from our usual ways of being.”
“This is important to me because it affects my friends and family,” Pedroza said after the event. “Undocumented students on campus are uncertain of their future. They are getting some help from the university, but would feel safer if Jenkins put out a statement outlining how they will be supported.”
While today’s protest remained peaceful, Pedroza pointed out that many undocumented students have already faced harassment, some of which occurred online after the protests. “Today wasn’t only about Jenkins declaring Notre Dame a sanctuary campus,” she said. “It was also about showing solidarity and love to our undocumented peers and to advocate for Notre Dame to do better for undocumented students and others who are a part of marginalized groups.”
Pedroza said she was encouraged by the large turnout. “I think it was especially important for undocumented students to see that Notre Dame students care about them and will stand up for them and with them.”
When these students disappeared behind the doors of the Golden Dome, a few protesters trickled out to head back to class. The vast majority, though, remained until the students returned, greeting them with applause and joining them in singing the Alma Mater.
*The views of this author are not necessarily the views of Scholastic magazine.