Why I walked out with my students

Story highlights

  • Devin Thomas: I joined my own students in walkout protest in support of sanctuary campuses
  • Being an ally to undocumented students affirms values of a liberal arts education, she says

Devin Thomas is a Ph.D. candidate at NYU and documentary filmmaker based out of Brooklyn, New York. Her short documentary, "Thiaroye by the Sea," a character portrait of a female rapper in Senegal, premiered this year at the Margaret Mead Film Festival. The views expressed here are her own.

(CNN)On Wednesday, I joined my students at New York University in a walkout organized in an attempt to pressure the university to declare NYU a sanctuary campus. In the wake of Donald Trump's election, students across the country have staged similar walkouts and protests.

Devin Thomas
Making NYU and other schools sanctuary campuses means they will do everything in their power to protect the rights and well-being of their immigrant and undocumented students, faculty and staff. That it will refuse to participate in the mass deportations proposed by our President-elect. It is also a commitment to protecting the safety of all students who find themselves endangered by the looming specter of Trumpism. With Trump's choice of Steve Bannon, who has links to white nationalists, as his chief strategist, the President-elect's hate speech can no longer be dismissed as purely symbolic.
    I believe becoming a sanctuary campus is critical not only to maintaining the well-being of NYU's student body but also to upholding the values of a liberal arts education, academic integrity and freedom.
    So I interrupted my own lecture and joined hundreds of students and faculty as we marched out of our classrooms and gathered in Washington Square Park. There I was honored to witness a young generation of intellectuals and activists cutting their teeth on social mobilization and protest. Using the strategies of the human microphone born out of the Occupy movement, female students of color, queer students and Muslim students repurposed the dry fountainhead in the center of the park as a makeshift stage, where they voiced their own fears and hopes for the future. I participated by adding my voice to the human microphone, my body to the critical mass, and my ears to listening to the powerful stories that NYU students shared.
    This moment has particular resonance for me as a student and scholar of comparative literature -- a field born out of exile from nationalist movements, founded by intellectuals forced to flee Germany and France under Hitler's fascist occupation. As the famous theorist (and exile) Theodor Adorno once wrote, "it is part of morality not to be at home in one's home." To put that in 21st century terms, it is a moral obligation for each of us to be aware of our privilege. Never have these words rung more true to me than this moment. As a white woman, my whiteness protects me in Trump's America. Unlike millions of citizens and undocumented immigrants, my body is not at immediate risk. Now more than ever it is imperative to be an ally.
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    Being an ally in this moment means participating but also stepping aside to listen to those who have been historically marginalized and disenfranchised speak about their experiences. It means not dismissing these points of views as overreactions. It means putting your own body on the line alongside those who feel threatened.
    Direct action is more important than ever. I hope NYU and other schools will do the right thing on behalf of our undocumented students. No matter what, those of us who are your allies will continue to protest and continue to listen.