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Documenting a Crisis: How Postsecondary Institutions Addressed DACA Students After Trump's Rescission


by Z. W. Taylor & Myra C. Barrera - 2019

Background/Context: On September 5, 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump ordered an end to former President Barack Obama’s 2012 immigration policy of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), placing some 800,000 undocumented immigrants—including thousands of postsecondary students—in danger of deportation. Mere hours after President Trump’s announcement, postsecondary leaders across the United States began releasing official statements in support of DACA. Aside from a postsecondary institution’s extolling of core values, it is important to investigate how these official institutional statements addressed the most critical, at-risk constituency on their college campus: DACA students themselves.

Purpose: The purpose of this study was to analyze post-DACA rescission statements made by executive leaders of U.S. institutions of higher education to learn whether these statements addressed the most important audience of these statements—DACA students—and whether institutions of higher education provided these students the resources they needed in their time of crisis.

Research Design: The data were collected from each institution of higher education’s website from September 5 to September 7, 2017. The sample included 218 official institutional (two- and four-year, public and private) statements made by executive leaders at these institutions. Data analysis included deductive attribute coding and quantitative content analysis techniques such as average word count and grade-level readability measures.

Findings: The post-DACA rescission statements greatly varied in length (longest = 1,118 words; shortest = 50 words) and were unreadable by postsecondary students of average reading ability, as the average statement was written above the 15th-grade reading level. Only 54% of all statements addressed DACA students, with negligible variance (0.5%) between public and private institutions. Only 51.9% of all statements provided resources for DACA students. Of those statements, 99.1% of resources were institution-provided, whereas 20.4% were community-provided, with private institutions (12.9%) offering more community-provided resources than public institutions (7.5%).

Conclusions: Institutions of higher education may want to consider best practices when composing crisis communication, primarily that crisis communication should focus on addressing the populations most affected by the crisis. Once the crisis communication is composed, that communication could be audited for its readability by the intended audience. Moreover, institutions of higher education may learn from the Virginia Tech massacre and apply it to their crisis management and communication strategies, namely by providing both institution-based and community-based resources to those most affected by the crisis. Finally, institutions of higher education may consider differentiating their crisis communication across multiple platforms such as social media, email, text message, and their institutional website to ensure that all stakeholders are aware of the potential solutions and resolutions to the crisis, in order to avoid miscommunication and a lack of organizational transparency while maintaining organizational integrity and honesty.

On September 5, 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump ordered an end to former President Barack Obama’s 2012 immigration policy known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), placing some 800,000 undocumented immigrants—including thousands of postsecondary students—in danger of deportation (Shear & Davis, 2017). Subsequently, civil rights leaders and political actors catalyzed a flurry of oppositional action: Over a dozen states sued the President for prejudice and discriminatory intent against Mexicans (Associated Press, 2017), while countless metropolitan areas witnessed the immediate mobilization of pro-DACA activists protesting the President’s decision (Sacchetti & Stein, 2017).

Meanwhile, and mere hours after President Trump’s announcement, postsecondary executive leaders across the United States began releasing official statements in support of DACA, delivering a “cascade of critical statements—a wave of condemnation” against the President’s action (Adams & Hoisington, 2017, para. 1), with the University of Massachusetts System's joint statement categorizing Trump’s decision as “an affront to our core values” (para. 11). However, in addition to a postsecondary institution’s extolling of core values, it is important to investigate whether these official institutional statements addressed the most critical, at-risk constituency on a college campus: DACA students themselves. For these students, President Trump’s action to end DACA was not a public relations or campus communications emergency: The events of September 5th, 2017 constituted a full-blown crisis in need of immediate institutional support. In fact, shortly after Trump’s announcement, multiple news outlets and U.S. legislators defined the situation as a crisis in need of immediate legislative attention and policy reform (Los Angeles Times Editorial Board, 2017). And even though President Trump tweeted that he would take “no action” during his own self-imposed six-month Congressional embargo period (Trump, 2017), these words were unlikely to console the thousands of DACA students who rely on DACA’s many administrative structures for their very livelihoods.

To date, no extant research addresses how postsecondary leaders use official institutional statements to immediately respond to a crisis affecting postsecondary students, especially those in incredibly compromised positions such as DACA students in early September of 2017. Therefore, by examining a random sample of 218 official institutional (two- and four-year, public and private) statements issued from September 5 to September 7, 2017, this research study seeks to answer the following questions:

Immediately after President Trump’s September 5, 2017 rescission of DACA, did official institutional statements directly address DACA students and their immediate welfare?

If these statements did address DACA students, did these statements provide resources—institutional or otherwise—for DACA students feeling threatened, alienated, or targeted by President Trump’s action?

If statements did include resources, what types of resources were included?

Employing Brammer’s (1985) applied crisis theory, we articulate how postsecondary leaders immediately addressed DACA students during this crisis, and how current and future educational leaders can publish timely, official statements that take into account a student’s personal, social, and emotional needs in a crisis, such as the one facing DACA students across the country.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Currently, no research exists that examines the nature of official statements released by institutions of higher education that are meant to comment upon a crisis facing one or more of their student populations. The only study that examined official statements of any kind made by institutional leaders of higher education was Taylor’s (2017b) work that analyzed post-U.S. Presidential election statements released by the executive leaders of the University of Texas at Austin, the University of California system, and the University of Wisconsin—Madison. Therefore, two separate but equally important literature reviews emerge: an overview of crisis communication research in higher education, and best practices in organizational crisis communication across multiple disciplines, including education.

It should also be noted that these literature reviews focus on crisis communication, not emergency communication. The difference between these two terms is the immediate severity of the event. For the purposes of this project, emergency communication is defined as communication composed to address immediate, life-threatening concerns, such as a natural disaster or active shooter. Therefore, these literature reviews are framed using Brammer’s (1985) definition of a crisis: A “state of disorganization in which people face frustration of important life goals or profound disruption of their life cycles and methods of coping with stressors. The term crisis usually refers to a person’s feelings of fear, shock and distress about the disruption, not the disruption itself” (p. 94).

CRISIS MANAGEMENT AND COMMUNICATION IN HIGHER EDUCATION

Institutions of higher education commonly use one or more emergency communication strategies, including text messaging, emailing, and social media (Connolly, 2013). However, no research has addressed official statements of crisis communication posted on institutional websites per Brammer’s (1985) definition, and extant research has not distinguished between emergency and crisis communication specific to higher education. Therefore, it is appropriate to provide an overview of emergency and crisis communication methods to best analyze the situation facing DACA students and the communication these individuals may or may not receive.

Institutions of higher education are increasingly using social media not only to communicate with students, faculty, staff, and other educational stakeholders, but also to communicate with these stakeholders during a crisis. These institutions often cite the popularity of social media—especially Facebook and Twitter—as a reason for engaging with these technologies, while also preferring their low cost of operation. However, crisis-related higher education social-media use remains an under-researched area of the field (Romano, 2013). Outside of the scope of institutional mission statements (Morphew & Hartley, 2006; Wilson, Meyer, & McNeal, 2012), higher education research has largely ignored the official statements made by institutions following a crisis, including statements meant to address a crisis facing a specific student population, such as DACA recipients.

Tierney (1988) outlined the decision-making processes of higher education administrators, stating that these administrators “often have only an intuitive grasp of the cultural conditions and influences that enter into their daily decision making” (p. 4); thus, these administrators find themselves “dealing with organizational culture in an atmosphere of crisis management, instead of reasoned reflection and consensual change” (p. 4). Ultimately, Tierney asserted that administrators act in ways that are reactive, instead of proactive. This idea of reactive administration was touched upon in Wahlberg’s (2004) study that examined the University of North Dakota’s (UND) controversial mascot—the Fighting Sioux—and institutional communication employed to address their public relations crisis with multiple stakeholders, including the Sioux Nation and the university’s donor base. Therein, Wahlberg found that private, executive leadership communication with a wealthy UND donor greatly complicated matters for UND and its North Dakota Board of Higher Education, as the author ultimately asserted that prior to official institutional communication with the public, multiple stakeholder groups “did not agree on what would constitute a successful resolution to the crisis” (p. 202), thus allowing the crisis to linger. Therefore, institutional communication that clearly defines the crisis—across stakeholders—is essential to its resolution.

Perhaps a watershed moment for critical examinations of crisis management in higher education, the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting—although categorized in this study as an emergency, not a crisis—produced a number of scholarly works that analyzed crisis management and institutional preparedness (Catullo, 2008; Deisinger & Scalora, 2016; Wang & Hutchins, 2010), touching upon Tierney’s (1988) idea of reactive administrative responses before proactive administrative planning. Catullo (2008) found that important student affairs professionals believed their campuses to be prepared for a crisis in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy, yet research focused on the Virginia Tech incident “made it abundantly clear that there are many complicated facets of crisis preparation on residential university campuses that professionals may not be prepared to handle and the need to be proactive has never been greater” (p. vi). Wang and Hutchins (2010) asserted that Virginia Tech’s many institutional support services were poorly organized, their workers undertrained and unprepared, and their efforts uncoordinated across multiple campus units, prompting the tragedy’s survivors to feel overwhelmed and under-supported. However, the university did connect survivors with community-based resources such as federal and state compensation funds and the Red Cross, with the survivors claiming that these community-based liaisons “were sensitive, knowledgeable, caring, and helpful” (p. 562). This particular study embraced Brammer’s (1985) concept of crisis communication as being primarily concerned with the aftermath of a crisis and not the emergency event itself; the authors ultimately asserted that institutional crisis communication plans must include “a wide variety of both internal and external stakeholders” (p. 568) in order to best serve all campus community members to ensure that survivors are supported by the most professional and knowledgeable resources available.

This finding was supported by Borland (2017), who found that crisis communication issued by postsecondary campuses must engage with internal and external resources, especially those focused on providing grief, stress, and faith support for all educational stakeholders recovering from a traumatic event. Borland defined internal stakeholders as including “employees, auxiliary leaders, campus ministry, students, and trustees who all have great responsibility, power, and influence in times of campus crises,” whereas external stakeholders were defined as a “network of experts and community members that provide services and support in the campus’ geopolitical and socio-economic home” (2017, p. 190). In a later perspective on the Virginia Tech massacre, Deisinger and Scalora (2016) asserted that Virginia Tech’s cooperation with community-based resources ultimately led the U.S Department of Justice Office’s to recommend "implementation of community-based approaches (in addition to campus based) to support effective prevention and intervention efforts” in crisis situations (p. 193). Here, although early studies had found Virginia Tech’s institutional resources to be inadequate (Wang & Hutchins, 2010), the university’s crisis communication with and coordination of community-based resources was recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice as a pillar of best practice in crisis management and communications.

Subsequently, crisis-communication research in higher education has found that testing a crisis-communication plan is just as important as having one (Jenkins & Goodman, 2015); crisis communication should be receiver-based, to urge stakeholders to act in ways that promote self-aid and self-protection (Sellnow et al., 2015); and that institutional leaders should use qualitative data-collection tools to assess their campus’s climate, if there is a perceived, impending crisis facing the campus community, to inform crisis communication strategies and messaging (Lucas, Linsenmeyer, & O’Brien, 2015). Furthermore, Lawson (2007) reasoned that campus communicators must identify the most important intended audience for the crisis communication and how best to reach this audience to provide the most appropriate resources available, stating that “unfortunately, administrators usually assume that internal audiences are either less important or are already somehow ‘in the know,’ and as a result, internal audiences may be forgotten” (p. 99). Therefore, it is important to analyze post-DACA rescission statements to learn whether these statements addressed the most important audience of these statements—DACA students—and whether institutions of higher education provided these students the resources they needed in their time of crisis.

BEST PRACTICES IN ORGANIZATIONAL CRISIS COMMUNICATION

W. Timothy Coombs’s (2015) text Ongoing Crisis Communication: Planning, Managing, and Responding defined an organizational crisis as “the perception of an unpredictable event that threatens important expectancies of stakeholders related to health, safety, environmental, and economic issues, and can seriously impact an organization’s performance and generate negative outcomes,” (p. 3). This definition is appropriate for the study at hand, as DACA recipients likely felt threatened in terms of their health, safety, and economic well-being in the wake of President Trump’s decision.

Specific to crisis communication, Coombs (2015) outlined a two-part goal for all organizations to follow when responding to a crisis: Prevent the crisis “from spreading to unaffected areas of the organization,” and “limit its duration” (p. 129). Although the situation regarding DACA was ongoing and could not be directly limited by institutions of higher education, Coombs asserted that organizational leaders must be honest with their stakeholders (p. 135), adjust information in order to allow stakeholders to psychologically cope with the situation (p. 142), “extend expressions of concern and sympathy” (p. 143), and employ one or a combination of strategies to “deny, diminish, rebuild, or bolster” their organizational posture as it relates to the crisis (p. 145), depending on that organization’s reputation and credibility. Coombs also recommended that all crisis communication be evidence-based, urging organizational leaders to use data, instead of “speculation or accepted wisdom,” to drive crisis communication decisions (p. 184). This is akin to Tierney’s (1988) idea that higher education administrators often have only an “intuitive grasp of the cultural conditions and influences” that influence their decision making (p. 4).

Pertinent to the study at hand, and particular to crisis communications over the Internet, Bridgeman (2008) explained that organizational access to the Internet has accelerated “the pace and scope of crises faster than ever before” (p. 170). Furthermore, the author asserted that the “speed of the Internet, and its content-rich channels, means that corporations need to be ready to provide more and more information, in multiple media and formats” (p. 175), speaking to the notion that institutions of higher education must differentiate their crisis communication across multiple platforms to ensure all stakeholders are appropriately addressed (Connolly, 2013; Romero, 2013). Bridgeman’s assertions ultimately foreshadowed Deisinger and Scalora’s (2016) findings that organizations must partner with external stakeholders, thus “reaching out to and asking for directions from a community of stakeholders, who, in the midst of a crisis, are empowered by the web to help a company get back on track” (p. 177). Here, it is important for organizations of all types to engage with external stakeholders to maximize the impact of the Internet, especially as it can be used to disseminate crisis communications.

Finally, when organizations address underrepresented or marginalized populations, it is especially important that they target their crisis communication to these populations. Ulmer, Sellnow, and Seeger (2015) asserted that “Particular audiences may have specific communication needs or desires” (p. 44). Moreover, the authors urged all types of organizations to adopt a “culture-centered approach” to crisis communications that “involves including underrepresented populations in determining the appropriate crisis messages, the most effective channels for information dissemination, and the most trusted people to deliver crisis messages” (p. 45). In this study, it was difficult to discern whether the institutions included had adopted the culture-centered approach to crisis communications, yet Ulmer, Sellnow, and Seeger strongly promoted the notion that organizations of all types should develop partnerships with underrepresented populations in their communities “to meet the needs of each group” (2015, p. 45) and mitigate ambiguity or uncertainty felt by these groups in the event of a crisis.

THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK

Brammer’s (1985) applied crisis theory asserted that crises—on personal or collective scales—can be categorized into three types: normal developmental crises, situational crises, and existential crises (pp. 94–95). For the purposes of this project, we viewed the situation facing DACA students as a situational crisis, which Brammer defined as a situation that emerges after an event that could not be appropriately planned for or entirely predicted, leading to an individual or group feeling powerless and unable to control their personal or collective future. Expanding upon Brammer’s (1985) work, James and Gilliland (2013) redefined his concept of a situational crisis as one that emerges “with the occurrence of uncommon and extraordinary events that an individual has no way of forecasting or controlling” (p. 18). Therefore, we understood the crisis facing DACA students after President Trump’s DACA rescission to fit both Brammer’s (1985) and James and Gilliland’s (2013) definitions of a situational crisis, as, although it is likely that DACA students were aware of President Trump’s ongoing review of DACA in the weeks and days leading to September 5, 2017, these students had no way of forecasting the President’s decision or controlling the crisis.

To remedy a crisis, Brammer (1985) asserted that all institutional, organizational, or professional counseling and assistance should focus on self-help and empowerment: Resources must be provided to the individuals or groups in need to inform, assist, and empower those who feel powerless. This is particularly salient with respect to Brammer’s conception of the situational crisis as it pertains to institutions of higher education, as institutional resources—such as student counseling centers, legal assistance, and immigration clinics—are resources that requires active student engagement to move toward Brammer’s notion of self-help. Simply put, DACA students may find these resources difficult to locate or use if their institutions do not inform them of the resources and then encourage their use. Ultimately, we chose to use Brammer’s framework in analyzing institutional communication during a situational crisis to learn whether these institutions addressed the most direct participants in the crisis—DACA students—and whether they encouraged and empowered their DACA students to engage with varying types of resources in official institutional statements immediately after the crisis had started.

METHODOLOGY

The data for this project were made readily available on institutional websites, and the following questions guided the project:

Immediately after President Trump’s September 5, 2017 rescission of DACA, did official, institutional statements directly address DACA students and their immediate welfare?

If these statements did address DACA students, did they provide resources—institutional or otherwise—for DACA students feeling threatened, alienated, or targeted by President Trump’s action?

If the statements did include resources, what types of resources were included?

To answer these questions, we employed a mixed-methods approach, namely deductive attribute coding (Miles, Huberman, & Saldaña, 2014, pp. 79–81) and quantitative content analysis (Riffe, Lacy, & Fico, 2015).

We employed this methodological approach because of the size of the corpus—over 200 statements, totaling more than 70,000 words—and the focused, direct nature of our research questions. Quantitative content analysis involves the “systematic assignment of communication content to categories according to rules, and the analysis of relationships involving those categories using statistical methods,” (Riffe, Lacy, & Fico, 2015, p. 3). Here, we identified variable categories through a collaborative, iterative process that directly connected thematic findings to our research questions, namely the audiences of the official statements and the types of resources provided to these audiences. Given the direct nature of our research questions and the amount of text that required deductive attribute coding, quantitative content analysis was appropriate for this project.

To better describe our corpus (collection) of statements and their overall effectiveness in communicating with educational stakeholders such as DACA students, we also employed two quantitative content analysis techniques: word count calculations and grade-level readability measures. Both the length of a text and its grade-level readability contribute to its effectiveness, as over five decades of readability research has found that the longer a text and the higher its grade-level readability, the more difficult that text is to read and comprehend (DuBay, 2004). Couple these findings with recent research that suggests that the average American reads and comprehends at the 7th-grade level (Clear Language Group, 2016), and remember that most DACA students come from countries where English is not a national language (Krogstad, 2017), and it becomes important to assess the length and grade-level readability of English language crisis communications per the suggestion of extant research (Neuhauser et al., 2013; Novak & Biskup, 2011; Temnikova, Vieweg, & Castillo, 2015).

To calculate word count and grade-level readability, we employed Readability Studio, a quantitative linguistics software program. We extracted the text of each statement and uploaded it into Readability Studio, using the Automated Readability Index (Kincaid & Delionbach, 1973), the Flesch-Kincaid test (Kincaid, Fishburne, Rogers, & Chissom, 1975), the Gunning fog test (Gunning, 1952), and the SMOG index (McLaughlin, 1969) to calculate grade-level readability, as these measures were created specifically to analyze different semantic (word choice) and syntactic (sentence structure) elements of nonfiction text. We selected these measures given their usage in extant research related to the grade-level readability of postsecondary information across institution types (Taylor, 2017a, 2017c). These data are displayed in Table 1.

DATA COLLECTION

We gathered all official institutional statements from institutional websites; this decision was informed by the massive volume of popular news outlets (e.g., NBC News, Fox News) covering the situation surrounding DACA and President Trump’s rescission. Instead of analyzing news outlets' reporting on official statements, we decided that statements published directly on institutional websites were the most accurate, authentic sources of institutional communication available.

To locate these statements, we employed the Advanced Search available on the Google website, delimiting our search results using the following protocol: Find pages with the words college and/or university and/or community college, statement, and DACA; narrow results in English; narrow results published on domains within the United States; narrow results within last 24 hours; narrow results to the .edu domain. We performed this advanced search on September 5 through 7 to specifically narrow our focus to official institutional statements published immediately after President Trump’s rescission of DACA. This advanced search yielded 218 results, all of which were uploaded into an Excel database with the following metadata extracted from each statement: publication date, institution, institution type (public or private, two- or four-year), URL, and full text of statement.

DATA ANALYSIS

The preliminary round of analysis required each researcher to read all 218 statements without coding the data to gain an understanding of the aims and scope of the statements through an iterative, reflective process meant to develop deductive categories based on our research questions. Once we completed this preliminary analysis round, each researcher performed a first round of deductive coding in alignment with our initial research questions (Miles et al., 2014, p. 81). We began with a master code—AUD, or audience—and paid special attention to each statement’s intended audience through use of second person pronouns (i.e. you/your) in conjunction with a discussion of DACA students, using a binary coding strategy (1 = yes, 0 = no) and coding where DACA students were specifically addressed in the statement itself using the code AUD.DACA (see Appendix A).

Each individual researcher maintained a separate database to avoid individual bias and keystroke errors while coding the statements. Of 218 total statements, there were five discrepancies among the research team regarding the coding of audience. The main concern among the research team was whether a generic naming of “students” constituted a DACA-student audience. After collaboration, discussion, and a reflection period, the research team determined that DACA students needed to be specifically named, or personal pronouns needed to be used in conjunction with DACA-specific resources. This decision was informed by Ulmer, Sellnow, and Seeger’s (2015) work that found, “Particular audiences may have specific communication needs or desires” (p. 44); therefore, a DACA-student audience needed to be specifically mentioned for the statement to be coded as addressing DACA students. Then, each researcher performed a second round of deductive attribute coding that entailed “basic descriptive information” necessary for a third round of inductive subcoding (Miles et al., 2014, p. 79). The second round focused on whether statements referenced resources for DACA students to perform self-help and self-aid per Brammer’s (1985) applied crisis theory, employing the same binary coding strategy. The research team unanimously agreed on the coding of all 218 statements in the second round.

Finally, resource types emerged from a third round of inductive subcoding of the data; after the research team collaborated and compared coding results, we identified four institution-provided resource types and four community-provided resource types. No discrepancies emerged regarding resource types, but research team members did derive different names for similar resources, as one researcher developed separate mental health and counseling codes, while another researcher developed a single counseling code. After collaboration and reflection, we aligned all codes with the research questions and merged redundant codes together to form accurate descriptions of the data.

Institution-provided resource types included student affairs services (e.g., student-services office website, open-door meetings with an institutional leader), immigration services (e.g., immigration-focused institutional websites, human-resources meetings), counseling services (e.g., contact information for student health professionals or counselors), and legal services (e.g., DACA informational meetings with institutional legal representatives, DACA-specific institutional guidelines). Community-provided resources included legal services (e.g., locations of local law offices), immigration services (e.g., immigration websites), counseling services (e.g., telephone numbers of local counselors and mental health professionals), and an “other” category which included a question-and-answer session at a local community organization’s office, along with other vaguely described community meetings that did not explicitly mention legal services, counseling services, or immigration services.

A complete listing of codes and subcodes, along with two sample coded official statements, can be found in Appendix A.

LIMITATIONS

The primary limitations of this study are sample size and the use of other forms of institutional crisis communication to inform DACA students during the immediate period after President Trump’s decision to end DACA after a six-month embargo period.

Although there are thousands of postsecondary institutions in the United States, we chose to focus on the institutions that released DACA statements immediately after President Trump’s announcement, artificially delimiting our sample size. This decision was made in consideration of crisis communications best practices, namely that organizations of all types should disseminate crisis and emergency communication as soon as possible to mitigate many types of damage to a wide variety of organizational stakeholders (Bernstein, 2000; Coombs, 2007; Ingenium Communications, 2015; Patashnick, 2016). However, executive leadership crisis communication is a rarely researched topic in higher education and represents a wealth of future research opportunities.

Because they are beyond the scope of this project, we did not analyze other forms of institutional communication between institutional leadership and DACA students: The content of emails, phone calls, face-to-face meetings, and social-media outlets would be difficult to gather and analyze across 218 different institutions in all corners of the United States. However, an analysis of other communication channels used by postsecondary institutions during emergencies and crises represents opportunities for future research. Furthermore, given the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and its restrictions on access to student records and querying of immigration status, it is difficult to discern how many DACA students were attending each institution, unless the institution openly disclosed this information in its post-DACA rescission statement. As a result, it is important to note this study’s elimination of other forms of institutional communication and the possibility that some of the institutions in the study have only small numbers of DACA students on their campuses, rendering interpersonal communication potentially more viable and impactful for those institutions.

FINDINGS AND DISCUSSION

Descriptive statistics of post-DACA rescission statements published by postsecondary institutions in the United States (N = 218) can be found in Table 1.

Table 1. Descriptive Statistics of Post-DACA Rescission Statements Published by Executive Leadership of Postsecondary Institutions in the United States (N = 218)


Total number of institutions:

     Public

          Two-year

          Four-year

     Private four-year

218

     117

          20

          97

     101

Average word count (# of words):

     High

     Low

Average readability level (grade level):

     Automated readability index

     Flesch-Kincaid

     Gunning fog

     SMOG

358

     1,118

          50

15.5

     16

     15.4

     14.3

     16.2


Although over 40% of all college students are enrolled in two-year institutions, and these institutions are likely to be more racially and ethnically diverse than four-year institutions (Ma & Baum, 2016), it is important to note how few post-DACA rescission statements made by two-year institutions were immediately accessible online. It is possible that two-year institutions—because of higher numbers of DACA students on their campuses—chose not to comment publicly on President Trump’s decision or communicated with DACA students through alternative channels. Ultimately, two-year institutions comprised only 9% of the total sample in our study.

The average length and readability of the statements in this study is notable: Some statements were terse (50 words), while others were nearly the equivalent length of a four-page, double-spaced essay in a 12-point font (1,118 words). In addition, the average statement was not readable by the average U.S. adult or the average undergraduate (Clear Language Group, 2016). In fact, the average readability of post-DACA rescission statements was well above the 15th-grade reading level, rendering the content of the statement extremely difficult to read for the average DACA undergraduate, especially given that an overwhelming majority of DACA students arrive from countries whose first national language is not English (Krogstad, 2017). High readability levels also contradict best practices for crisis communications for underrepresented populations such as DACA students, as crisis communications should be composed at appropriate literacy levels for the audience most affected by the crisis (Ulmer, Sellnow, & Seeger, 2015). It would likely be difficult for institutions of higher education to argue that their DACA students can all read and comprehend above the 15th-grade reading level, or that this audience prefers communications written above the 15th-grade reading level.

The SMOG index measures the difficulty of diction, and statements in this study registered a SMOG score above the 16th-grade reading level. Furthermore, the Flesch-Kincaid and Gunning fog measures both analyze sentence structure, and statements in this study registered above the 15th- and 14th-grade reading levels in these measures. Even if several post-DACA rescission statements did address DACA students (Table 2), it is likely that these statements were incredibly difficult for DACA students—and all undergraduates—to read, given their high grade-level readability. The length and readability of post-DACA rescission statements—crucial elements of situational crisis communication—will be addressed in our implications section.

A quantitative content analysis of post-DACA rescission statements published by postsecondary institutions in the United States (N = 218) can be found in Table 2 below.

Table 2. Quantitative Content Analysis of Post-DACA Rescission Statements Published by Executive Leadership of Postsecondary Institutions in the United States (N = 218)


Percentage of statements (%):

     Addressing DACA students

          Public

          Private

     Providing resources for DACA students

          Public

          Private


53.7

     53.9

     54.4

51.9%

     50.4

     53.4

Of institutions providing resources (n = 112)

     Types of resources (%)

          Institution-provided

                    Public

                         General student affairs services

                         Immigration services

                         Counseling services

                         Legal services

                    Private

                         General student affairs services

                         Immigration services

                         Counseling services

                         Legal services

      

          Community-provided

                    Public

                         Legal services

                         Immigration services

                         Counseling services

                    Private

                         Legal services

                         Immigration services

                         Counseling services

                         Other (Q&A sessions, meetings)



99.1

     98.1

         73.3

         50.0

         31.6

         20.0

     100

          88.5

          38.5

          30.8

          12.9


20.4

      7.5

            5.0

            5.0

            3.3

     12.9

            9.3

            3.7

            0.0

            3.7


First, data in this study show that 53.7% of post-DACA rescission statements addressed DACA students, with a negligible difference between public and private institutions (0.5%). Furthermore, this study also suggests statements that addressed DACA students likely included a mention of resources specifically for DACA students on their campuses: 51.9% of all statements included resources for DACA students, with private institutions (53.4%) slightly outpacing public ones (50.4%). These findings suggest that post-DACA rescission statements made by institutions of higher education fell into two distinct categories.

The first group of statements comprises those that followed crisis communications best practices by addressing those most affected by the crisis (Lawson, 2007), supporting underrepresented populations (Ulmer et al., 2015), and urging stakeholders to act in ways that promote self-aid and self-protection (Sellnow et al., 2015) by providing resources for the affected populations (Deisinger & Scalora, 2016). The second group of statements—representing 46.3% of the sample—condemned President Trump’s actions without addressing DACA students or offering resources for these students. Therefore, it is possible that DACA students at institutions that did not address DACA students or offer resources may have felt further marginalized and unsupported by their institutions, echoing research suggesting higher education administrators may be unfamiliar with the cultural conditions of their decision making (Tierney, 1988). Many statements in this sample demonstrated little understanding of the cultural conditions experienced by DACA students by failing to address the most important population affected by the DACA rescission crisis, a phenomenon common to organizational crisis communication (Lawson, 2007).

Furthermore, of institutions providing resources for DACA students, while an overwhelming majority mentioned institution-provided resources (99.1%), only 20.4% mentioned community-provided resources. After analyzing the Virginia Tech massacre, both Wang and Hutchins (2010) and Deisinger and Scalora (2016) strongly encouraged institutions of higher education to partner with community-based organizations to facilitate crisis-related support services, including, but not limited to, legal and counseling services. In this study, only 7.5% of public and 12.9% of private institutions mentioned community-provided resources for DACA students in their official statements. This does not necessarily indicate that the other institutions do not have community-based partnerships or do not make community-based resources available to their students in a crisis, but it is notable to highlight how few post-DACA rescission statements included community-provided resources for DACA students when best practices strongly support institutions of higher education facilitating community-provided resources for students in a crisis (Deisinger & Scalora, 2016; Wang & Hutchins, 2010).

The data also indicate that both public and private institutions prioritized certain types of resources over others. Extant research supports the idea that organizations should provide specific resources, given specific circumstances, to best support affected populations (Coombs, 2015; Ulmer et al., 2015), and institutions in this study’s sample largely categorized the situational crisis facing DACA students as one requiring student affairs services, immigration services, counseling services, and/or legal services. However, it is important to note that legal services were the least likely institution-based resources to be offered in institutional statements, whereas community-provided legal resources were most likely to be offered, along with community-provided immigration services. This indicates that institutions felt that the crisis facing DACA students was one best handled by student-affairs professionals and not legal experts,. This is an interesting finding, as the rescission of DACA is undoubtedly a pressing legal issue for DACA students, yet institutions of higher education were least likely to offer legal services to these students.

General student affairs services (73.3% and 88.5%) were also two to three times as likely to be offered in institutional statements as mental health and wellness counseling services (31.6% and 30.8%), indicating that institutions categorized the post-DACA rescission crisis, again, as one best handled by student-affairs professionals rather than professional counselors. While it is likely that countless student-affairs professionals across the country have professional counseling backgrounds, DACA students may be unaware of this. Therefore, it is notable that institutions in this study chose to refer DACA students to general student-affairs professionals more than to highly specialized professionals in the fields of mental health, wellness counseling, or legal services, given extant research that found student-affairs professionals to be largely unprepared to ill-equipped to support students in a crisis (Catullo, 2008). The same phenomenon was apparent with regard to community-provided resources: Only 3.3% of public institutions offered information on community-based counseling services, while zero private institutions offered such services. However, it is notable that 3.7% of the private institutions providing resources had partnered with community-based organizations to facilitate Q&A sessions or informational meetings focused on DACA recipients and their immediate needs. Zero public institutions mentioned this type of community-provided resource in official post-DACA rescission statements.

Ultimately, data in this study suggest that most post-DACA rescission statements were unreadable by most audiences; only half of these statements addressed the group most affected by the crisis; only half provided resources to the group most affected by the crisis; and the resources mentioned were overwhelmingly institution-provided rather than community-provided.

IMPLICATIONS

First, institutions of higher education could benefit from best practices when composing crisis communication, primarily in understanding that such communications should focus on addressing the populations most affected by the crisis (Coombs, 2015; Deisinger & Scalora, 2016; Lawson, 2007; Ulmer et al., 2015). Once institutions of higher education have composed their crisis communication, these institutions should consider auditing it for its readability by the intended audience: It is unlikely that crisis communication at the 15th-grade reading level is best for any audience in a crisis. By addressing the audience most affected by the crisis and composing the communication at readable levels for this audience, institutions of higher education may better serve campus communities or individuals facing a crisis, such as DACA students across the United States.

Second, our study supports the position that institutions of higher education could benefit by applying to their crisis management and communication strategies what was learned from the Virginia Tech massacre: that these institutions should provide both institution-based and community-based resources to those most affected by the crisis (Deisinger & Scalora, 2016). By embracing Ulmer et al.’s (2015) culture-centered approach to crisis communication, institutions of higher education could consider communicating and collaborating with underrepresented populations when crafting and testing crisis communications strategies. If an institution of higher education enrolls DACA students or students from other marginalized groups, these institutions may include this underrepresented population in their plans when determining “the appropriate crisis messages, the most effective channels for information dissemination, and the most trusted people to deliver crisis messages” (p. 45) to best serve the needs of the group. This strategy can perhaps best be accomplished by using qualitative data collection tools to assess campus climate, thus informing crisis communication strategies (Lucas et al., 2015).

Finally, and perhaps most important, institutions of higher education and their various stakeholders may benefit from disseminating their crisis communication across multiple platforms, such as social media, email, text message, and their institutional website (Bridgeman, 2008; Connolly, 2013; Romano, 2013). Furthermore, extant research suggests that institutions of higher education should differentiate crisis communication to address both internal and external stakeholders (Borland, 2017; Bridgeman, 2008) to ensure that all stakeholders are aware of the potential solutions and resolutions to the crisis in order to avoid miscommunication and a lack of organizational transparency (Wahlberg, 2004) while maintaining organizational integrity and honesty (Coombs, 2015). These pitfalls can be avoided by embracing a culture-centered approach to crisis communications (Ulmer et al., 2015) while making efforts to test the crisis-communication strategy (Jenkins & Goodman, 2015) before it requires implementation.

CONCLUSION

Perhaps University of Kansas Chancellor Douglas A. Girod best encapsulated the feelings of postsecondary leaders across the United States in two paragraphs of his post-DACA rescission statement on September 5, 2017:

The University of Kansas is committed to providing equal opportunity for all students. For the past five years, DACA has enabled these young people to pursue education and employment. I believe they represent what is best about America, and it is unfair to penalize them for circumstances outside their control . . . . Again, today’s announcement prompts understandable concern throughout our university. We remain deeply committed to supporting all our students, and we powerfully embrace the fullness of the diversity they bring to our university. (Girod, 2017)

Ultimately, postsecondary institutions across the country had no control over the decision to end DACA, yet these institutions could facilitate and communicate resources available to DACA students and their support networks during their time of need. If DACA students do represent what is best about America, as Girod suggested, these students should be addressed and supported in order to continue that legacy. Yet postsecondary leaders should also acknowledge that their campuses extend far beyond their physical walls. DACA students should be offered both appropriate institution-based and community-based resources, in order to ensure that not only the directly affected students, but also their friends and families, are cared for and supported.

However, these institutional leaders were tasked with composing crisis communication in an incredibly expeditious fashion while also upholding FERPA guidelines and advocating for the well-being of their DACA students, staff, and faculty members. Undoubtedly, the line between protection and advocacy is a blurry one. In a preemptive measure, the University of Pennsylvania declared itself a sanctuary campus in September 2016, meaning that “agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection, or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services” were not allowed on campus without a warrant (Rock, 2017, para. 11). The city of Austin, Texas, home to the University of Texas at Austin, declared itself a sanctuary city for undocumented people and DACA recipients, only to be stymied by Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s signing of Senate Bill 4 (SB4), which allowed local law enforcement to question an individual's immigration status and punished local governments that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officers (Aguilar, 2017). Although cities that are homes to major universities, such as Houston, San Antonio, and Austin, have planned to challenge SB4 in the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, leaders of postsecondary institutions across the country may have felt the need to draft broad and audience-vague post-DACA rescission statements to protect their on-campus constituency. Here, this study’s findings may suggest that institutions of higher education were protecting DACA students by excluding population-sensitive details from official statements meant to condemn DACA’s rescission. Moreover, public and private institutions operate within different sociopolitical climates—as evidenced by SB4—and may have purposefully omitted institution- and/or community-provided resources in their official statements, choosing to communicate with and advocate for their DACA students using alternative, less public channels.

In any context, for thousands of Dreamers, DACA represents their very livelihood and well-being in the United States. Access to a postsecondary education is life-changing for this population. Therefore, institutional crisis communication should recognize this importance and urgency and respond to crises accordingly, allowing Dreamers to continue dreaming, thus making the United States a more equitable and inclusive place.


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APPENDIX A

CODEBOOK AND TWO SAMPLES OF OFFICIAL STATEMENT CODING

Note: Codes are as follows:

DACA student audience addressed = AUD.DACA

Resources for DACA students included in statement = RES.DACA

Subcodes (Types of resources):

Institutional legal resources = INS.LEGAL

Institutional counseling services = INS.COUNS

Institutional immigration resources = INS.IMMIG

Institutional student affairs resources = INS.STUAFF

Community legal resources = COMM.LEGAL

Community counseling resources = COMM.COUN

Community immigration resources = COMM.IMMIG

Community "other" resources = COMM.OTHER


Official Statement from September 5, 2017

Hyperlink: http://www.cpp.edu/~president/messages/daca.shtml

Today’s White House Decision to Phase Out DACA

The Trump Administration’s decision today to phase out the DACA program has created great anxiety and concern on our campus and at universities nationwide. I share that concern and offer my support to all of our undocumented students (AUD.DACA), who are a vital part of our university.

Let me reassure you that DACA students are valued members of our university community, and they will remain so. They deserve our compassion and support during these uncertain times.

I also want to offer this reassurance: CSU systemwide enrollment and tuition policies are not based on DACA status and will not be impacted. State funding available under the California Dream Act is not based on DACA status and will not change.

Those facts are clear, but much remains to be determined as we sort through the implications and effects of today’s decision. I encourage all who might be affected (AUD.DACA) to carefully read the DACA fact sheet that the Chancellor’s Office has prepared (INS.IMMIG), as well as periodically check updates on the CSU Chancellor’s Office website (INS.STUAFF). Congress may pass legislation on the matter, but it is prudent to base our thinking on what we currently know (RES.DACA).

The Bronco Dreamers Resource Center (INS.STUAFF), which serves our undocumented students, stands ready to assist those in need, as well as their allies. We are an inclusive community, and that will not change regardless of what happens in Washington. I am heartened that ASI President Farris Hamza and other student leaders have expressed their strong support for our undocumented students and their important place in the diverse fabric of our campus community. It is a message that I fully embrace.

Regardless of your background or status, we care about your well-being. If you are a student and wish to talk to someone, Student Health and Counseling Services (INS.COUNS) stands ready to help. If you are an employee, you may find assistance through the CPPLifeMatters (INS.LEGAL) program.

My beacon statement begins with “We are student-centered.” That is a daily commitment, but it is especially poignant in times like these. We are a Bronco family — and we remain a family despite the challenges we face.

Soraya M. Coley, President


Official Statement from September 5, 2017

Hyperlink: http://www.napavalley.edu/President/Pages/NVC-Statement-on-DACA-Announcement%2C-09-05-17.aspx

NVC Statement on White House DACA Announcement of September 5, 2017


By now, you may have heard the announcement from the US Attorney General Jeff Sessions regarding the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA program. All of us at Napa Valley College reaffirm our support for all of our students, including our undocumented and DACA students. We believe that “Dreamers” are vital contributors to our economy, our communities, and our society. Your current standing as a Napa Valley College student has not changed and you are encouraged to attend class and continue with your educational aspirations (AUD.DACA).

You may recall that, in April, the NVC Board of Trustees and President passed a resolution outlining our values and how we live these values at the college. We are resolved that the college will remain open, safe and welcoming to all students regardless of immigration status, and that “Dreamers” are vital contributors to our economy and our communities. We are resolved that the college will not release any personally identifiable student information related to immigration status, create any registry of individuals based on protected individual characteristics, or assist immigration authorities in the apprehension of a student without a judicial warrant, subpoena or court order, unless authorized by the student or required by law.

We stand with the UCs, the CSUs, and CA Community College Chancellor, Eloy Ortiz Oakley’s unequivocal commitment to advocate for federal policies that are consistent with our goal to maintain open access at all CA Community Colleges. As Chancellor Oakley noted in a statement earlier today: “We don’t put dreams — or Dreamers — on hold … We will do all within our power to assist students affected by this decision….”

If you feel the need to talk to someone here on campus, please contact Student Health Services (707) 256-7780 (INS.STUAFF), counseling staff (INS.COUNS), and/or the office of Student Affairs located in the 1300 building on campus (INS.STUAFF). (RES.DACA)

Know that all of our students, faculty, staff and community members are welcome here at NVC.

Dr. Ron Kraft

Superintendent/President

Napa Valley College






Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 121 Number 5, 2019, p. 1-28
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22657, Date Accessed: 12/4/2021 9:07:21 PM

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  • Z. Taylor
    The University of Texas at Austin
    E-mail Author
    Z. W. TAYLOR is a graduate research assistant in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy at The University of Texas at Austin. His scholarly interest include linguistics, informatics, and the intersection of technology and communication in education. His work has recently been published in the Community College Journal of Research and Practice, the Journal of College Student Development, and the International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education.
  • Myra Barrera
    The University of Texas at Austin
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    MYRA C. BARRERA is a research associate for Project M.A.L.E.S. at the University of Texas at Austin. Her scholarly interests include college readiness, transition, persistence, and retention initiatives and strategies for first-generation/low-income Latinx students as well as secondary/postsecondary partnerships.
 
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