Donna Carroll said she couldn’t have done it without her community.

Carroll, longtime president of Dominican University and Wednesday Journal’s River Forest Villager of the Year, said she’s witnessed plenty of accomplishments during her 24-year tenure, including the 20th anniversary of its “new” name in 2017. This year, Dominican cracked the top 20 on the prestigious U.S. News & World Report college rankings list. The magazine named Dominican fifth in Best Value Schools for the Midwest. 

The university is also celebrating its third round of fundraising, generating an estimated $120 million over the course of Carroll’s career to start new degree programs, build new facilities and help shape the university into the welcoming place it is today. 

“By speaking out, by providing policy like the sanctuary campus resolution, it gives not only our undocumented students, but all of our students a sense of where we stand, and what our values are about the importance of dignity for every human being,” Carroll said. 

After President Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Dominican re-affirmed its support for undocumented students. The university also re-affirmed its sanctuary status, vowing to withhold access to any student information — including immigration status — from federal officials unless they produce official warrants. This stance helped inspire the village of River Forest to adopt a similar welcoming ordinance in August that protects undocumented individuals. 

“I really value the support that the community here has given me, and the Dominican sisters have always been my greatest cheerleaders, and that makes a big difference,” Carroll said. “You speak with more confidence, and more influence, authority, when you know you’re speaking not only for yourself but on behalf of the academic community and the sponsoring order of the university.”

Carroll has been speaking out a lot, recently, as well as back when the national debate started in 2012, when then-President Barack Obama instituted the DACA program, which allowed individuals who illegally entered the country as minors to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and be eligible for a work permit. As of 2017, approximately 800,000 individuals — referred to as Dreamers, after the DREAM Act — were enrolled in the program. Carroll has said approximately 5 percent of Dominican students are without documentation. The Trump Administration rescinded the policy in September 2017.  

“I try to be hopeful” for a policy change, Carroll said. “I think there is strong bipartisan support for the approval of the DREAM Act and other policies, and really what I say to students is, ‘Focus on your academics; don’t let all this uncertainty disrupt your plan; try to keep positive.'” 

Carroll has spoken to CNN, the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and many more news outlets about her stance on the program. In addition to talking, she has been acting too. The university has always tried to prioritize scholarships to students without documentation, she said. She hopes the immigration debate remains at the top of peoples’ minds. Between tax, health care and other policies that have been debated during the Trump administration’s quick strike on Obama-era policies, “the approval of the DREAM Act is an equally significant policy issue,” Carroll said, “not only a moral issue, but an economic issue. These are very talented young women and men who already are truthfully part of the economy and want a pathway to citizenship. We have to keep that public conversation active.”

CONTACT: ntepper@wjinc.com

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