A group of doctoral students in Baylor University’s religion department recently launched an online petition asking the administration to join the growing “sanctuary campus” movement, appealing to the private Baptist school’s Christian identity.
Co-authored by six members of Baylor’s Graduate Theological Fellowship, the Make Baylor University a Sanctuary Campus petition has garnered nearly 1,300 signatures since its introduction on Feb. 6.
Students, alumni and faculty at more than 200 campuses across the country have launched similar petition drives asking their schools to adopt policies modeled after “sanctuary cities” that refuse to cooperate with attempts by the federal government to detain and deport undocumented immigrants. Most, however, don’t appeal to religion.
The petition condemns President Trump’s recent executive orders on immigration as “incompatible with Baylor’s Christian commitments.”
“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 (Matt. 25:31-46),” the petition reads in part.
It asks Baylor administrators to join “with Christian and other institutions across the nation in affirming that refugees, migrants and international visitors are full and essential members of our community, whose dignity and well-being we must uphold.”
Two of the authors, Thomas Breedlove and Tyler Davis, both Ph.D. students studying religion, said in an email Feb. 11 they want Baylor to join the growing sanctuary campus movement. They “hoped to garner support from our particular community by articulating the university’s expressed Christian commitments to diversity and hospitality.”
Demands include declaring Baylor “to be a sanctuary campus that will refuse to comply with immigration investigations or deportations to the fullest extent possible, including denying access to university property” and providing scholarships for students from seven predominantly Muslim countries identified as high risk in the White House travel ban.
According to the Baylor Lariat, university officials released a statement saying they were aware of the petition and are working to make Baylor “a safe space” for students and scholars impacted by the executive orders.
The campus sanctuary movement began with student walkouts last fall at colleges across the country protesting Trump’s immigration policies and demanding their schools protect undocumented immigrants from possible deportation.
“Clearly, students whose lives may be disrupted by threats of intimidation, violence or even deportation cannot pursue their educational goals with equanimity,” the AAUP said in a statement. “Faculty members have a legitimate interest in ensuring the maintenance of an academic environment conducive to student learning.”
More than 600 college and university presidents from public and private institutions across the U.S. signed a letter urging continuation and expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program that President Obama created by executive order in 2012 allowing young people who were brought to the U.S. illegally to remain in the country to study and work by registering with the federal government.
College administrations have been more cautious than faculty about full embrace of the sanctuary campus designation. A Facebook page titled “Sanctuary Schools” lists more than 62 schools which support the movement compared to 13 that officially designate as a “sanctuary college.”
The Wake Forest University Student Government Association voted overwhelmingly in December to ask President Nathan Hatch to declare the school a sanctuary campus. Hatch, one of the presidents who signed the letter supporting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, declined the request, saying the term is a symbolic statement of support not clearly substantiated by law.
“We do not believe adopting the position strengthens our community, as we are already operating in a way that supports the well-being of undocumented students,” the Wake Forest administration said in a statement.
The Baylor petition comes on the heels of a major sexual assault scandal that has tarnished the squeaky clean image of the Baptist school once best known for not allowing students to dance on campus.
“This pivotal moment can become a time of creative and critical witness for Baylor as a ‘Christian institution of higher learning,’” the petition says. “We urge our leadership to accept this opportunity.”
Signatories include faculty members of Baylor’s religion department and George W. Truett Theological Seminary.
Baylor Young Conservatives of Texas — a student group “dedicated to the founding principles of American exceptionalism, Christian ethics and the best of Baylor tradition” — issued a statement on social media opposing “any and all efforts to make Baylor University a sanctuary campus,” adding, “we do not condone the actions of those who attempt to circumvent the law simply because it does not fit their ideology.”