Presidents Statement in Support of Vulnerable Marginalized Peoples

Over the course of the past several months, there have been numerous signs that significant changes relating to America’s stance on immigration, “undocumented” individuals who are not yet citizens (including students), and citizens of other nations, were on the horizon. The President’s issuance this past Friday of an executive order to immediately close our nation’s borders to refugees fleeing war-torn nations filled with violence, oppression and persecution – as well as those who previously had obtained visas through the rigorous post-9/11 foreign nationals vetting process, but who come from specific (principally Muslim) countries – has left thousands of people, and families, in a state of limbo and raised new, and urgent, questions for our nation and specifically, students and individuals within our Gonzaga community.

As a Jesuit, Catholic and humanistic university long committed to causes deeply rooted in our mission values, I wish first to affirm our fundamental commitments, reflected in our Mission Statement, to “. . . (the) dignity of the human person, social justice, diversity, intercultural competence, global engagement, solidarity with the poor and vulnerable, and care for the planet.” For me, these words incur an obligation on the part of our university community to care for those among us who are vulnerable, and in need of support. This specifically includes immigrant students from the recently-banned nations as well as our “undocumented” students, here legally under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

The history of America is the history of a nation created by people from many different nations and cultural backgrounds across time. Often these individuals fled war, famine, and religious persecution and came to the United States in search of a better life. I am reminded of the words of Emma Lazarus’ poem, New Colossus, etched upon a plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

For many around the world, America has been, and remains, a beacon of hope – fierce guardian of religious liberty, defender of human rights, a nation that in its best incarnation lives out the spirit of those words at the heart of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and our Bill of Rights:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” 

Gonzaga University has long welcomed students, faculty and staff members from around the world without regard to ethnicity, race, or faith, seeking to create a community of people that not only celebrates diversity but works to authentically support individuals from every and any corner of the planet. This includes students, staff and faculty from nations in crisis.

In Fall 2016, the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) and the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU) each authored statements relating to “undocumented” students, of which I am a signatory. The AJCU statement reads, in pertinent part:

Grounded in our Catholic and Jesuit mission, we are guided by our commitment to uphold the dignity of every person, to work for the common good of our nation, and to promote a living faith that works for justice. We see our work of teaching, scholarship and the formation of minds and spirits as a sacred trust.

That trust prompts us to labor for solidarity among all people, and especially with and for the poor and marginalized of our society. That trust calls us to embrace the entire human family, regardless of their immigration status or religious allegiance. And experience has shown us that our communities are immeasurably enriched by the presence, intelligence, and committed contributions of undocumented students, as well as of faculty and staff of every color and from every faith tradition.

The Statement goes on to make these four commitments:

• To protect to the fullest extent of the law undocumented students on our campuses;

• To promote retention of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA);

• To support and stand with our students, faculty and staff regardless of their faith traditions;

• To preserve the religious freedoms on which our nation was founded.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, along with many prominent leaders of the Church in the US, has denounced the “ban on immigration” as harmful to those most vulnerable – among the 65 million forcibly displaced people in search of humanitarian aid, living in refugee camps, or seeking asylum. The Jesuits have long labored to support and aid those living on the margins of society, both here in the U.S. and abroad, a deep commitment that has made a difference in the lives of countless people around the globe.

Jesuit Universities are, at their heart, places of hope committed to living out the meaning of Christ’s message for the world: a message of God’s love for each and every person, and an enjoinder to do the same. “If we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities.” Pope Francis issued these challenging words to Congress in 2015, and followed with a warning: “The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.”

Gonzaga University will support those among us who are vulnerable and who are experiencing fear and tremendous anxiety during this time: our Muslim students, immigrant families from Middle Eastern nations, and our undocumented DACA students among them. Our colleagues in departments such as the Center for Global Engagement and Student Development are working actively to support these students, but I ask each of you to actively work to create a campus climate that is welcoming and supportive of every student, regardless of race, ethnicity, culture, faith, national origin, sex, gender identity, or other means of classification or categorization. In so doing, we commit to operate not out of a place of fear, but from a place of hope and strength. And in so doing, we live out the meaning of Jesus’ second great commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:31). 

Thayne M. McCulloh, President
Gonzaga University
January 30, 2017