The University of Nevada Introduces New Social Services Coordinator Position

RENO, NEVADA — DECEMBER 8, 2016: Silent Demonstrator holds sign in front of President Marc Johnson’s office. (Photo Courtesy of Gabriella De Leon)

In an attempt to urge the University of Nevada, Reno to declare itself as sanctuary, the Latinx Student Advisory Board requested for the creation of a social worker position in order to aid students with concerns regarding immigration. This position was granted by President Marc Johnson and will be filled later this month. The office will be located in the Center of Every Student, Every Story on the third floor of the Joe Crowley Student Union.

In December of 2016, LSAB formed a silent demonstration in front of Morrill Hall where Johnson has his office. LSAB collected more than 1,000 signatures on a petition asking the university to stand with immigrants. President of LSAB, Jackeline Durón, said the silent demonstration ended when the petition was hand-delivered to Johnson’s office where he agreed to have a meeting with the group.

“I felt that we needed to show both the campus and larger communities that people were supportive of this effort and a demonstration was necessary,” Durón said.

Despite the efforts made by demonstrators, President Johnson decided to not publically announce the university as sanctuary. However, Johnson agreed to create a social worker position as requested in the petition made by LSAB, but Durón believes that labeling the campus as sanctuary is an important stance to take as an institution.

“Sanctuary campuses are a small bandage in the larger context of how broken our immigration system is in the U.S,” Duron said. “But, it’s important for students and their families to feel safe and not live in fear of raids.”

Johnson views the term sanctuary as a division between church and state. He believes that the term sanctuary rose through law where an individual seeks a church for refuge and safety. Because of the division of church and state, the church is able to protect an individual from the law because of the sanctuary they provide. This view is what stops the university from becoming sanctuary because as a state entity, the school is unable to go against federal law.

“We can’t fulfill what is normally thought of as sanctuary protections. We can’t defy federal law, we can’t defy state law, but what we will do is limit the information we collect so that we don’t have anything to share.” Johnson said.

Johnson noticed that when other campuses claimed themselves as sanctuary, those campuses created a set of guidelines that guaranteed refuge, which he felt unnecessary for the safety of students.

RENO, NEVADA — DECEMBER 8, 2016: President Marc Johnson reads signs held by silent demonstrator in favor of a sanctuary campus. (Photo Courtesy of Gabriella De Leon)

“Rather than having a whole stream of limitations and put a target on our back and I feared it would be a target on all of our student’s backs, I just avoided the term sanctuary campus,” Johnson said.

Although the campus is not labeled as sanctuary, the campus is well-underway of providing similar resources. The university is currently making a decision among four final candidates that interviewed for the position of a social services coordinator.

Blane Harding has been the Director of the Center of Every Student, Every Story for the past 28 years and credits the university for creating this position. For the time that he has worked, he does not recall a position that has been filled with a social work background. However, he does not believe that the four candidates being interviewed have enough experience for the job, but are capable through extensive training.

“I just want to make sure they [UNR] give this person their full support,” Harding said. It’s one thing to create a position and to put somebody in it, it’s another to make sure that person has everything that they need to do the best job that they can with the population that they’re actually serving.”

Through this position, students will have the chance to meet with the counselor not only to discuss any issues they may have about immigration but other concerns revolving education or university life in general.

If U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were to approach the university, the school does not obtain the status of immigration from students and therefore would not be able to provide information to the agency. The only time the school would cooperate is if ICE had subpoenas or warrants for an individual’s arrest for a committed crime or felony.

However, students continue to push for a sanctuary campus despite Johnson’s response. LSAB currently has a meeting scheduled with Marc Johnson for Friday, April 7.

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