OUSU Council this week passed a motion pledging to turn Oxford into a ‘sanctuary campus’.
The motion was also extremely critical of the Government’s anti-extremism Prevent strategy, calling it “invasive” and “Islamophobic” for Muslims and students of colour. The Prevent framework operates on campus, with one effect being to screen the views of those invited to speak at the University before they are allowed to visit.
The motion began by noting that: “There has been a rise in racist, xenophobic and Islamophobic attacks since Brexit and the election of Donald Trump”, before going on to say that “some universities in the US have adopted a ‘sanctuary campus’ approach, which involves practical support to stop racist government policy from harming the welfare of international students, students of colour and migrant workers, for instance by resisting deportation officials.”
The ‘sanctuary campus’ initiative comes after the defiance of American ‘sanctuary cities’ such as Chicago and Los Angeles. In the aftermath of Trump’s election, such cities, with attempts to institute a ban on travel from a handful of predominantly Muslim countries and suggestions that there would be a mass deportation of illegal immigrants, said that they would not comply with directives issued from Washington.
The motion, proposed by Lily MacTaggart and Lilith Newton, also stated “[that] although it is not always possible to stop the effects of racist government policy on campus, we must try and minimise the impact of these policies on student welfare”, and that “migrant workers are a vital part of our institution and their rights must be safeguarded.”
This follows similar moves to protect the rights and status of immigrants. Oxford Migrant Solidarity is a campaign comprising students and locals which focuses its efforts on pressing for the closure of Campsfeld House Immigration Removal Centre in Campsfield.
The scale of such action from OUSU does, however, appear to be without precedent. As well as “mandat[ing] OUSU to write to all heads of college urging them to protect all migrant sta in the wake of Brexit”, the motion entailed the backing of a detailed pledge and mandated OUSU sabbatical officers and Oxford NUS delegates to act in accordance with it.
Action to be taken includes “organising meetings of all students to increase the awareness of the threats and harassment faced by international students and what it means for all our education.
“We will [also] organise speakouts and tribunals where immigrant, international and Muslim students can testify openly about discrimination they have faced, and where we can vote and decide on actions we need to take.”
The St Anne’s representative to OUSU, Tom Zagoria, told Cherwell: “They did amend it to add ‘peacefully and legally’ several times when it was mandating the officers to act though, just so the motion could get past the trustees.”
An Oxford University spokesperson said: “Oxford University is complying with the Prevent legislation and is meeting all of its statutory duties. Our approach is in line with other Universities in the Russell Group.”
The proposers of the motion and OUSU were contacted for comment.