Board of Visitors responds to DACA, DeVos speech: Future unclear for College’s policies following actions by Trump administration

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September 18, 2017

10:49 PM

In recent weeks, various decisions announced by U.S. President Donald Trump and his cabinet members have raised concerns on college campuses nationwide. While these decisions are still playing out on a national stage, they have created waves at the College of William and Mary as students, faculty and administrators work to determine how Trump’s decisions will impact life in Williamsburg. During last week’s Board of Visitors sessions, these national conversations also influenced the discussions and outcomes of committee meetings.

Trump’s Sept. 5 announcement that he plans to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program sparked student protests on the Sunken Garden, as there are currently 23 College students protected under the act. Following Trump’s decision, College President Taylor Reveley released a campus-wide email echoing sentiments he has shared since Trump’s election in November.

“[DACA students] belong here, and we strongly believe they should be allowed to finish their educations,” Reveley said in an email. “William & Mary will keep doing all we can to support them.”

Friday, the full Board introduced and passed a resolution affirming the BOV’s support for students protected under DACA. This resolution highlights that the College supports the ability of DACA students to continue their studies and calls on elected officials to find a bipartisan solution that will allow these students to continue their studies without interruption.

“William and Mary currently enrolls 23 of these students,” BOV member Lisa Roday said. “These students belong here just as much [as others]. We want support for them to stay and continue their studies uninterrupted.”

Beyond the passage of this resolution, the Board discussed existing campus resources for students protected under DACA. During the Committee on Student Affairs meeting, presentations focused on how the Wendy and Emery Reves Center for International Studies has been working with DACA students since the beginning of the program. Following Trump’s announcement of plans to phase out DACA, the Reves Center has “ramped up” efforts to protect students.

Moving forward, the College will also offer information sessions for students with DACA status, confidential access to immigration attorneys, town hall sessions, counseling and sessions with local police and the university registrar.

While Trump has taken no official action regarding the Aug. 11 and Aug. 12 protests in Charlottesville, Va., that occurred when white nationalists rallied against the city’s plan to remove Confederate statues, his unofficial response was to blame the violence on both sides of the rally. This response drew criticism for failing to clearly condemn the white nationalists who attended the protest. In the days following the rally, Reveley responded to these instances by affirming that the College supports free speech as well as compassion.

During Provost Michael Halleran’s report to the BOV Thursday, Sept. 14, he discussed how the events in Charlottesville should and would influence the College throughout the academic year.

“We can’t promise personal safety, but we can promise to do everything conceivable to keep people safe,” Halleran said. “We want every student, staff member and faculty to feel welcome, and it is important to extend that welcome.”

He also said that the College prides itself on academic freedom and freedom of expression, and that therefore, disinviting people or shutting down events goes against what the College stands for.

“If a safety argument is given in good faith — if we honestly can’t handle the security for an event or speaker, then that’s fine, but it must be given in good faith,” Halleran said.

This discussion comes at a crucial moment, as college campuses nationwide have debated disinviting speakers or fellows because of their backgrounds or potentially offensive subject matter. While many of these debates are centered around alt-right speakers or white nationalists, Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government rescinded Chelsea Manning’s fellowship offer Sept. 15 after receiving criticism from the public.

Additionally, during the convention of the full board, BOV member Chris Little said that during the meeting of the Committee on Audit and Compliance, there was a discussion about U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ Sept. 7 speech regarding plans to revise the government’s approach to campus sexual assault. Currently, the “Dear Colleague” letter acts as an unofficial set of procedural guidelines.

This letter, as followed by the College, means disciplinary procedures rely on the assumption that it is more likely than not that alleged misconduct occurred and allows accusers to appeal not-guilty findings. DeVos said in her speech that survivors are not well served by the appeals process and that no student, particularly those accused of sexual misconduct, should have to “sue their way to due process.”

While it is not clear how exactly DeVos plans to replace these Obama-era campus sexual assault policies, her comments have sparked concerns nationwide and at the College about what this could mean for those reporting instances of sexual misconduct.

Earlier in the week, during the Committee on Student Affairs meeting, members of the Board discussed how DeVos’ speech had generated concern and a “great deal” of anxiety for the student body, and how it needed to be a priority to educate campus about sexual assault policies and respond to allegations.

Chief Compliance Officer and Title IX Coordinator Kiersten Boyce said that DeVos’ statement was simply a statement, not a legal change. While this statement has spurred debate, Boyce said the College does not currently know what it means for the future, but the administration needs to stay on top of any developments. Reveley added that it is also unclear what processes DeVos’ comments might create and whether they will result in formal rules.

One element of the policies deriving from the “Dear Colleague” letter is that many interpret them to give more rights to the accuser than to the accused. Secretary of the Board Sue Gerdelman ’76 said that she thinks that equal protection should go to the accused and the accuser in all instances.

Another BOV member, Little, said that the accused need to have more rights because they are in a different situation.

“The accused and the accuser are in different situations,” Little said. “We have to give more rights to the accused. The current guidance requires a quality of rights for both parties. The quality of rights is mandated.”

While it is not clear how exactly DeVos plans to replace these Obama-era campus sexual assault policies, her comments have sparked concerns nationwide and at the College about what this could mean for those reporting instances of sexual misconduct.

Earlier in the week, during the Committee on Student Affairs meeting, members of the Board discussed how DeVos’ speech had generated concern and a “great deal” of anxiety for the student body, and how it needed to be a priority to educate campus about sexual assault policies and respond to allegations.

Chief Compliance Officer and Title IX Coordinator Kiersten Boyce said that DeVos’ statement was simply a statement, not a legal change. While this statement has spurred debate, Boyce said the College does not currently know what it means for the future, but the administration needs to stay on top of any developments. Reveley added that it is also unclear what processes DeVos’ comments might create and whether they will result in formal rules.

One element of the policies deriving from the “Dear Colleague” letter is that many interpret them to give more rights to the accuser than to the accused. Secretary of the Board Sue Gerdelman ’76 said that she thinks that equal protection should go to the accused and the accuser in all instances.

Another BOV member, Little, said that the accused need to have more rights because they are in a different situation.

“The accused and the accuser are in different situations,” Little said. “We have to give more rights to the accused. The current guidance requires a quality of rights for both parties. The quality of rights is mandated.”

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About Author

Sarah Smith

News Editor Sarah Smith '19 is an international relations and gender, sexuality, and women's studies major from Ashburn, VA. She formerly served as Associate News Editor.