Symbolic Sanctuary and Discursive Dissonance: Limitations of Policy and Practice to Support Undocumented Students at Hispanic Serving Institutions

Uriel Serrano, Andrea del Carmen Vazquez, Raul Meneses Samperio, Allison Mattheis


An increase in public expressions of xenophobic and racist nativist sentiments followed the election of the 45th president of the United States, and higher education institutions across the country issued statements proclaiming their support for students impacted by changes to federal immigration policy. Guided by García’s (2017) organizational typology of HSIs and critical policy studies (Diem, Young, Welton, Mansfield & Lee, 2014), we conducted a content analysis of messages distributed via campus-wide email that addressed the vulnerabilities of DACA recipients and other immigrant students at two Hispanic-Serving Institutions in California. Our examination of these messages as policy documents reveals how campus and university-system leaders—even in a so-called “Sanctuary State”—attempt to create a notion of “campus as sanctuary” rather than committing to “sanctuary campus” policies and practices. We conclude with recommendations that push the notion of sanctuary campus beyond symbolic gestures and ask practitioners, scholars, and educators to reflect on the practices that foster true sanctuary environments.


HSI, sanctuary campus, higher education, immigration, DACA

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