Don’t Give a Rouse

All across the nation families are flush with emotions. Parents, sisters, brothers, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins are preparing for loved ones to cross a stage in a cap and gown. Normally a graduation ceremony is a liberating moment.

Not so at Dartmouth College.

Undocumented students, and those who belong to mixed status families have received an email informing them that travel to and from Hanover, New Hampshire, where Dartmouth is located, is unsafe. The note goes so far as to tell students and family members to avoid Commencement Weekend activities all together since the College will do nothing to prevent their detention or deportation. While advising them to contact attorneys as a precaution, the email does not include a single telephone number to call, or the name of even one lawyer they can email.

This week — the week of Commencement — Dartmouth received reports of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officials boarding buses near the College, and asking passengers for documentation. But in acknowledging receipt of this news, the College did not denounce this ICE action.

Despite the fact that an undocumented student and allies organization presented Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon with a petition signed by thousands in support of declaring the College a sanctuary campus, he has not done so. Despite requests from Latinx, Black, Asian, Native American, and white Dartmouth alumni that the College allocate resources toward the needs of vulnerable students, no resources have been allocated; no commitment made to help students who are stopped by ICE, Customs and Border Patrol, or local law enforcement officers coordinating with ICE/CBP. Despite the offers made by some members of the Dartmouth Lawyers Association to provide pro bono services, a list of on-call attorneys — their names, their numbers, their email addresses — are nowhere to be found on the College’s “resources for undocumented students” webpage. What can be found there is a number for a law student clinic housed at another institution of higher education, a number for a small law firm located in another state, and a hyperlink to the Catholic Charities website.

Dartmouth College’s Office of Communications has been exceptionally quick to pat itself on the back in the press for offering an alma mater to undocumented Florida valedictorian, Daniela Pelaez. It has embraced the ongoing earned media generated by Valentina Garcia-Gonzalez’s decision to join both the Class of 2019, and the College’s cheerleading squad. And it has been ebullient ever since the group of undergraduates and allies, led by undocumented Georgia youth, Melissa Padilla, not only won a change to the language used in the subject headings maintained by the Library of Congress, but also won a prime spot in a New York Times feature article.

Dartmouth’s Office of Admissions and its Office of Financial Aid promise the world to undocumented students. Dartmouth’s President, Provost, and Deans have nothing but glowing things to say about former President Obama’s DACA program, and its recipients. Dartmouth student publications and its Alumni Magazine recognize and praise the scholarship of PhD track students like undocumented Illinois sociologist, Oscar Cornejo-Casares. But when the request came that Dartmouth College instruct the Dartmouth Coach that runs from Logan Airport in Boston, Massachusetts to not allow ICE/CBP on their shuttles without warrants so that the privacy and safety of those traveling to the College for Commencement could be ensured, the greater Dartmouth community answered, writ large, with clear inaction and extenuation.

The first time my parents both set foot in Hanover was the weekend I graduated from Dartmouth. There was no money for them to travel to see me or for me to travel to see them. No one dropped me off at school. I went alone. And year after year, I didn’t go home for Thanksgiving. I worked for Dining Services during the school year. I cleaned dorms during Spring Break and then again during the first weeks of summer. I was the first one in my family to earn an undergraduate degree in this country. And I got my diploma from an Ivy League school older than the USA.

I used to think this was all so very important.

But as someone deported alongside my family at 6 years-old; someone who could have been separated from my Mexican parents and placed in the foster care system if they had lost their court appeal to keep me, because I did not have any family in the country to care for me once the order of deportation was issued, it’s hard for me to feel anything other than anger and resentment toward my alma mater.

If my parents had not been entitled to one weekend to have all of their hard work, all of the sacrifices they made on my behalf affirmed; if they did not get to witness me walk across that stage, then I would not have wanted that moment. And I would have forever resented everyone around me for having the freedom and the privilege to go where they wish, because they posses papers that no one ever asks them for.

Ay, there’s the rub.

The most egalitarian moment is supposed to be graduation day because for an instant, it’s not supposed to matter if you’re a first generation student or a legacy, a future doctor or a future salesperson. Whether you are wealthy or working class, LGBTQIA or cis and straight, regardless of race, religion, or regional difference, you are conferred equal worth. No one’s diploma comes with an asterisk that nullifies it.

But when the College that happily used your name, story, photo, and resume to build itself up, won’t even commit to making sure you and your family can get from Point A to Point B safely, it tells you everything you need to know about what you’re really worth. Not only is your diploma not an Aegis, it is in fact the sword of Damocles hanging over your head. It communicates threat instead of security.

There’s no difference between an undocumented student at Dartmouth College, or one from a mixed status family, and being Fatima Avelica, the 12 year-old, who videotaped ICE taking her father away when dropping her off at school in Los Angeles. Both are surrounded by people who talk a good game but do nothing as their worst nightmare comes true; both are powerless to protect their loved ones. Both realities are shocking. Both are cruel.

One happens at a public K-12 school. The other at an Ivy League school, founded in 1769, that costs $67,000+ a year, with a $4.5 Billion endowment.