Teach-in speakers, left to right: Margaret Hamer, Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights; Alejo Stark, Michigan Abolition Alliance; Christine Sauve, Welcoming Michigan; Alex Vernon, University of Detroit Mercy Law School; Vikrant Garg, Students 4 Justice; Noel Saleh, ACLU.

In light of the discussions that have occupied us around campus in the 2016 election cycle and even more since the election, a number of faculty decided to turn to an old Michigan tradition—the teach-in—to do what we are trained to do: study, examine, analyze, and debate questions the present throws at us. And the present has thrown us some big questions in light of current rhetoric targeting minority groups from people of color to immigrants, Muslims, LGBTY individuals, people with disabilities, and women. 

As cities and campuses across the United States have started identifying themselves as sanctuaries, we wanted to understand just what that meant and what the actual dangers could be to the campus community. “We” are a loosely organized group of faculty who are responding to the outpouring of questions from our students. Allan Lumba (History, Michigan Society of Fellows) actually convened the group, and I ended up helping him with logistics. Other members (affiliated with History) were Alice Goff, Amanda Armstrong, and Matthew Spooner, as well as Ana Maria Léon (History of Art) and Maximilian Alvarez, a PhD candidate. 

The primary purpose of the teach-in was to give us all a chance to listen and learn. Allan invited local experts from the American Civil Liberties Union, Detroit Mercy Law School, Students 4 Justice, Welcoming Michigan, and Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights to shed light on the history of sanctuary, how this concept is being used now, and its legal basis. But we also wanted to give students and faculty a chance to think about and speak to our role as a university and how we might assist organizations already working to protect people threatened by the recent proposals and new policies. 

While not coming to agreement, we had a lively discussion that helped us unpack the complexities of the issue—exactly what teach-ins are supposed to do. A key takeaway was knowledge of the systematic pressure local undocumented communities have suffered under numerous recent administrations. Most of the faculty and the students also learned that saying “yes” or “no” to sanctuary is not necessarily taking a clear stand because just what sanctuary is, is open to debate. 

Sanctuary, even when available, often entails hardship and sacrifice. The traditional sanctuary offered by churches, for instance, means that people who decide to use it really can't pursue a normal life beyond its safe haven. Another version, involving non-cooperation and reduced information sharing between regular law enforcement and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, is close to the university position recently announced by President Mark Schlissel.

Michigan faculty and students have developed extracurricular events like this since the first campus teach-in on the war in Vietnam in 1965. The next teach-in, titled “Understanding Fascism,” will take place on February 21.