Students gather for a Sanctuary Campus rally
Photo by Rachel Rogol

Several hundred Amherst College students, staff and faculty held a protest rally outside of Converse Hall at noon on Wednesday to show their support for the national Sanctuary Campus movement and fellow students, as well as to ask the College for clarity about issues affecting undocumented students.

The crowd, many wearing black and holding cardboard signs that read “No deportations” and “No human being is illegal,” were led in chants by Ana Ascencio ’18, who said later that a group of 10 students had organized the protest as a way to act in solidarity with people across the country and within the Amherst community.

“It’s important for us to stand up today, because the community is inclusive and diverse,” said Ascencio. “We wanted to be sure this space was intended to raise the voices of students.”

The rally included remarks by students, who talked about their concerns and about their experiences of discrimination, and by Dean of New Students Rick Lopez, who asked the community to “support those among us who have the most to lose. 

“We can’t allow any member of the College community to feel excluded,” Lopez said, adding that students should have no illusions about the level of protection even the Town of Amherst, which describes itself as a “sanctuary town,” can provide.

“I wish it meant more than it does,” Lopez said. “I don’t want us to think it’s going to provide that much protection.” 

Lopez reminded students that they could always turn to College staff with questions or concerns.

“You have allies all around,” he said. “I back you. I support you.”

In a letter presented to President Biddy Martin on the steps of Converse, the students asked that the administration not share information about undocumented students with police, that it keep existing protections place, refuse on-campus access to immigration officials, and divesting College holdings from any investments in private prisons and detention centers. The letter asked that the College administration provide a response to the letter by Monday, Nov. 28.

A press release issued by students in advance of the protests noted that the movement focused on “affirming the rights of undocumented students to dignity, respect, and permanent protection.”

“Acting at a moment heavy with fear and uncertainty, the #SanctuaryCampus movement is an expression of hope that calls on Amherst College to act on its promise to provide a safe environment for all its students and community members,” the statement read.

Ascencio said that she and the other organizers hope that more students will now join them and help lead ongoing efforts. As the crowd was dispersing from the rally, Ascencio led fellow students in a final chant.

“Whose campus?” she asked through a bullhorn. “Our campus!” the crowd called back.