Professor Visits UMass Comm Department for Talk on Sanctuary

Associate Professor Karma Chávez visited UMass to give her talk titled “Sanctuary and Undocumented Students: Articulating a Role for Public Universities,” in the Integrative Learning Center's Communication Hub.

Chávez is an associate professor and director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies at the University of Texas Austin. She focuses much of her work on questions of migration, coalition, and movement building. She describes her scholarship as one that is informed by queer of color theory and women of color feminism.

Chávez spoke about the concept of sanctuary, an idea that has been growing in popularity amid growing fears of deportation and a new administration that has already enacted several executive orders affecting immigrants, refugees, and undocumented people.

Calls to make various institutions and cities sanctuary spaces have increased since the election in November. Locally, there are movements to make Northampton a sanctuary city, and calls from student organizations to declare UMass a sanctuary space as well. But what is the meaning and value of such a space? Can there truly be sanctuary?

Chávez recalled older conceptions of sanctuary, which have their roots in biblical pasts. These previous understandings of sanctuary were poised around the commitment to fighting against unjust actions. Currently, sanctuary is talked about as a legal remedy to the current state of immigration and the threats posed to immigrants.

“Sanctuary”, Chávez said, “is an action outside of the law. Sanctuary as a legal concept does not really exist.”

In response, Chávez is informed by Queer studies to understand notions of being, belonging, and resistance to offer what she calls a “queer politics of fugitivity”, which could best be understood as a politic which denies borders and operates outside of any legal framework. Such a politic pushes us to reconsider what it really means to offer sanctuary, and how to appropriately respond to an unjust state.

More of Chávez’s work can be found at


-- Stephanie George ’17