Mount Holyoke walks out to demand sanctuary

Photo by Emily Tarantini '18 Students walked out of class and daily obligations in protest Wednesday, Nov. 16.

Photo by Emily Tarantini '18
Students walked out of class and daily obligations in protest Wednesday, Nov. 16.


Mount Holyoke campus erupted with cheering and chanting at 3 p.m. on Wednesday Nov. 16.  Noise could be heard, echoing through academic buildings, leading to the library. There, hundreds of students, staff and faculty had started gathering as part of the MHC #SanctuaryCampus Walkout. 

The goal of the march was to confront the administration regarding the need for sanctuary and well-being of any student whose education is jeopardized due to immigration status. The description published on the Facebook event page emphasized the demands of the student body: “we march to Mary Lyon Hall to demand that [the] administration take concrete steps to ensure that our most vulnerable people — including undocumented immigrants, Black, Muslim, Jewish, Queer people and all people of color as well as all targeted communities — are given permanent protection, dignity and respect.” 

The walk-out group also wrote a letter to acting president Sonya Stephens, demanding that Mount Holyoke become a sanctuary campus. The letter was delivered to President Stephens with the several demands, including college refusal of sharing voluntary information with Immigration Customs Enforcement, denial of ICE access to college property, prohibiting campus police and security from asking about immigration status and prohibiting discrimination of student housing based on immigration status, and other demands. 

Students were encouraged to provide space at the front of the march for students of color. Allies walked in the back to show support; the Facebook page encouraged “white allies [to] give space so that POCs are at the literal forefront for this event.”

The crowd chanted, “This is what democracy looks like,” and “Education, not deportation” around campus. The group marched from the library, alongside Route 116, before ending up at Mary Lyon Hall. President Sonya Stephens greeted organizers with a hug at Mary Lyon Hall. 

According to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Mount Holyoke is among over 100 institutions participating in walk outs this week, including Amherst College and UMass Amherst.  The Gazette lists both Amherst and Northampton as sanctuary cities, spaces “defined as places where local police refuse to cooperate with federal officials to deport undocumented immigrants who have otherwise not committed a crime.”

The march ended at the administrative center of the college, where the community cheered for immigration rights and educational justice. The letter, published on the Facebook page, ends with the promise that protests will resume Nov. 23 if the administration does not take action. 

Jennifer Gonzales-Santos ’17 attended the event, marching with the community: “The turn-out was amazing and I was very proud of seeing so many POC and allies there to accompany us. I think we made an impact that won’t be forgotten, especially in this important time of shock and sadness. It makes me realize how supportive this community is of one another and how quickly we can all unite for something we believe in.”

In an interview with Mount Holyoke News, she spoke on the importance of seeing President Stephens at the march: “I’m very excited to see the results of this movement towards a sanctuary campus, especially with Sonya being present during the rally. I hope we are able to continue these rallies and continue this amazing support in our community.”

The letter addressed to President Stephens ended with a reassertion of school policy: “This is a moment for our community to reiterate the sentiment embodied in the Mount Holyoke College Nondiscrimination Policy.” 

The policy reads: “The College does not discriminate in its educational policies on the basis of race, color, religion, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, age, handicap or disability or veteran or uniformed services status.”