“A Promise to Support Us:” Undocumented Experiences on a Sanctuary Campus

  • Elaine C. Allard Swarthmore College
  • Jonathan Hamel Sellman Swarthmore College
  • Brandon Torres Swarthmore College
  • Sydnie Schwarz Swarthmore College
  • Freddy Bernardino Swarthmore College
  • Rebecca Castillo Swarthmore College
Keywords: Undocumented; Latinx/Chicanx; Identity; Sanctuary Campus


This exploratory study examines the experiences of undocumented students at Hawthorne College, an elite, liberal arts institution with sanctuary status. Drawing primarily on a questionnaire and qualitative interviews, it considers 1) whether undocumented and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students on a sanctuary campus experience the characteristic psychosocial difficulties that mark the lives of undocumented students elsewhere and 2) the extent to which institutional policies mitigate these challenges. The research reveals that sanctuary is neither a panacea for undocumented students’ concerns nor is it a meaningless symbol. Students are protected from some typical barriers to college success, experience other barriers in classic ways, and face still other constraints quite differently in a privileged, high-pressure educational environment. The study adds to emerging research on the undocumented experience in higher education and offers preliminary insights into the promises and limits of the sanctuary campus movement.