Baylor community petitions for sanctuary campus

Photo credit: Liesje Powers

By McKenna Middleton | News Editor

Since Monday, an online petition titled “Make Baylor University a Sanctuary Campus” has garnered support through signatures from students, alumni, faculty and staff.

The declaration was drafted by members of the Graduate Theological Fellowship and was addressed to interim President Dr. David Garland, Executive Vice President and Provost Dr. Greg Jones, Vice President for Student Life Dr. Kevin P. Jackson, and Vice Provost for Global Engagement Dr. Jeffrey S. Hamilton.

“We, the undersigned members of the Baylor community, call on our administration to declare Baylor University a sanctuary campus,” the document states. “Baylor’s profession of the Christian faith commits it to the formation of a hospitable, just, and truth-telling community, especially for the sake of its most vulnerable members, in whom Christians discern the face of Christ.”

Petition co-author Laura Lysen, PhD candidate in the department of religion, said the goal of the petition is to open up opportunity to have hard conversations about immigration and to be a witness to the world as a Christian institution. Lysen said that silence and inaction is a statement in and of itself.

“We are really hoping and also believing that we have a good chance at getting a constructive response from our administration,” Lysen said. “We’ve gotten the sense that the administration cares about this stuff. … We’re coming from a place of good faith.”

The petition reiterates the ways in which a sanctuary campus would conform to both Christian values and university values.

“There was a sense that our call scripturally to care for the stranger among us was going to end up in conflict with what the state was asking us to do,” said petition co-author Lois Johnson, PhD candidate in the department of English and religion.

The co-authors also said the petition aligns with Baylor’s mission as a Christian institution, citing a statement Garland made on diversity and inclusion on campus.

“Baylor University is a diverse community in many ways … and we seek to embrace that diversity by continuing to learn and to foster an environment and an ethos of hospitality, belonging, and inclusivity,” Garland wrote in the statement.

The university responded to the petition Wednesday morning.

“The university is aware of the sanctuary petition and fully appreciates the strong support and encouragement of the campus community for our students and scholars who have been impacted by the recent executive order,” Baylor said in the statement.

The statement specified the ways in which the university is already working to make Baylor a safe space for the members of its community. The Center for Global Engagement has been working closely with each affected individual to answer questions and provide support, according to the statement.

“The Center for Global Engagement and university officials are closely monitoring the situation and will continue to provide personal guidance, support and encouragement for our students, staff and faculty who are impacted directly,” the statement said.

The Center for Global Engagement also held a meeting on Feb. 2 to discuss the effects of the executive order with international students. On Monday, Garland held a lunch for Baylor students from the impacted areas at Allbritton House.

“As with any issue of this importance, we are listening to feedback from the campus community,” said Jason D. Cook, vice president for marketing and communications and chief marketing officer. “Our focus right now is on our students who are directly impacted by the recent executive order.”

The declaration goes on to outline the executive orders related to refugees and immigrants from majority Muslim countries.

“In regards to those who would argue from Scripture that the government has the right to enact these orders, I would restate that the center of Christianity is Christ who called us to be disciples – to do what he did – and not merely converts to a religion,” Johnson said. “In regards to Romans 13, which I recognize causes concern among those of us who take Scripture seriously, it seems to me that in a democracy, it is the people are the governing authority, and we are the people of Christ, called to welcome the stranger.”

The idea of a sanctuary campus echoes calls for sanctuary cities and counties, or places where immigrants and refugees would be safe from deportations and investigations despite recent executive action.

“These executive actions are deeply troubling both in themselves and in light of the complex role that the United States has played in the migration of persons from Latin America and the Muslim-majority countries currently affected by the ban,” the petition says. “Equally concerning is the occurrence of hate crimes and violence against immigrants, persons of Latin American and Middle Eastern origin, and other minority and marginalized persons across the nation and on our own campus.”

Th Texas legislature recently debated and voted on Senate Bill 4 (SB4), a bill that would cut funding for sanctuary cities and force local law enforcement to cooperate with immigration laws. The bill was passed to engrossment on Tuesday. The text of the bill itself relates to governing agencies and law enforcement rather than schools and universities that adopt sanctuary policies.

“We welcome the chance to get to talk about these things,” Lysen said.

Conversations about legal issues, financial roadblocks and the role of civil disobedience in remaining true to a Christian mission are precisely what the co-authors of the petition hope to have with Baylor administration, Lysen said.

“This is not a partisan issue. For us it has nothing to do with Democrat versus Republican or liberal versus conservative,” Lysen said. “I think it’s atrocious that those things should come into and determine and shut down on conversations about what it means to be Christians and to be faithful. … This is not a political issue. This is about who are we as a Christian university.”

The signers urge university administration to refuse to comply with immigration investigations or deportations and to welcome refugees, migrants, and minorities by publicly condemning recent executive orders. The document lays out specific ways the university can satisfy this criteria including not releasing immigration information of students to enforcement agencies, creating an office for non-citizen students to receive legal and financial aid.

“When we look at Baylor, we have a university that is obviously predominantly Baptist Christian, but it has still accepted a fair amount of people of other religious faiths, other ethnicities,” said sophomore Noah Ward, co-president of Better Together BU, an organization that is dedicated to increasing interfaith dialogue on college campuses and that supports the petition. “If Baylor University is truly dedicated to all of its students, all of its faculty, then it needs to show support for them in these times of trouble. I think one of the key things that the writers of the petition highlighted and articulated very well is that there is a number of sections both within the Christian faith and the Baptist tradition that highlight the importance of standing beside other people.”

Other institutions have adopted similar policies such as Columbia University and Wesleyan University but have not cited Christian values as a foundation for adoption of sanctuary campus policies.

“I think we have a very hopeful position in regards to what the administration will do,” Johnson said. “That being said, the speed at which things happen is perhaps helped along when the student body is active and wants to see good things as well.”