COUNTERPOINT: Defying federal agenda may not help USC students
Last month, President Donald Trump and his administration announced that they would consider repealing the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The threat alone of rescinding this program, which currently allows undocumented people who were raised in this country to go to school, work and live in this country legally, was enough to yield massive liberal reaction on social media and at USC, a questionable initiative to help undocumented students led by the undocumented student and ally group IDEAS.
The resource center will open this month for a limited time on the fourth floor of Kaprielian Hall, and will hold office hours with Vanessa Gomez-Brake, the provost-appointed point of contact for immigration issues. The goal of the resource center is to give undocumented students complete access to all information and resources that the University offers to help them stay in school. Professor George Sanchez from the American Studies department justified the need for the center by citing how almost “every other campus in California has one.”
“Other universities have moved much more quickly,” he said.“We just feel like this University moves way too slowly.”
The necessity of the “pop-up” resource center for undocumented students as DACA seems safe for the time being is one question, but arguably the bigger question at hand is whether the University has any right to openly defy federal law as an institution that receives federal funding. USC is right to be cautious and mindful in deciding whether to move forward and take action potentially in defiance of federal law.
As tempting as it may be to simplify this situation into a binary of whether the University is helping or failing its students, this is a deeply incomplete portrayal. In reality, the validity of a campus undocumented student resource center and USC supporting initiatives that contradict federal law — or may contradict federal law in the future if DACA and the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act are rescinded later on — is a question of competing political goods, loyalties and moralities.
There is no denying that as an institution of higher learning, USC is bound not only to federal interests, but also to the cosmopolitan international network of universities, its greater tradition of inclusivity and its search for truth and intellectualism. There is the argument that this sacred traditional goal of expanding access to learning and being on the forefront of academic progress can only be advanced if the University takes a political stance as to protect diversity in classrooms. But the reality is that the best way for an institution of higher education to be loyal to its students is, frankly, to not be political.
When an institution like USC takes political stances over polarizing topics such as immigration reform, it is implicitly silencing ideas from the many intellectuals on its campus that disagree, and attacking that aforementioned goal of higher education, which is to foster diversity of ideas and protect intellectual debate. Furthermore, there is great risk in supporting initiatives and offering services and programs that defy or veer on defying federal law, while simultaneously relying on the federal government’s financial support. Loss of federal funding for scholarships, programs and opportunities for USC’s student body is a steep cost for self-righteousness and partisanship.
None of this is to say that I do not personally support aid for undocumented students and fostering an inclusive and diverse environment at the University. This is not a question of my personal beliefs, but of the implications of universities taking political stances and defying the laws of the federal institutions that they rely on for survival.
The fact that a number of universities, especially in California, have undocumented student resource centers reveals that one at USC will not exactly be controversial, and if we drew the ire of the federal government, we would be one university among many. In the same vein, USC offers student services for a number of identity groups, and also without controversy. But as for the University moving “way too slowly,” in the words of Professor Sanchez, I agree that USC may be moving slowly. However, I disagree that this is a bad thing. There is much at stake in these circumstances, and that’s why they demand thoughtfulness and vigilance.
Luke Phillips is a senior majoring in policy, planning and development. “Point/Counterpoint” runs Wednesdays.