Earlier this week, I spent an evening in the Titan Dreamers Resource Center with 22 undocumented students—we enjoyed pizza and snacks together as we sat family style around a large improvised table. Some of our students already knew one another; for others, it was their first time being in such a large group of individuals who share one of their most salient identities.
In my role as the Coordinator of the Titan Dreamers Resource Center (TDRC), I am truly honored to work with such a driven, ambitious, and enthusiastic group of students—students who have an incredible desire to succeed, and whose hunger for knowledge and opportunities is infinite. Students who are not being forced by their family to be in college, but who are in college because they themselves understand and appreciate the value of a college education. Sounds like a great group of students, right? And they are!
But this group of students—like many groups of students on our campus—need unique and individualized support. For our undocumented students, support is needed when they are enrolling to our campus—Do I have to add a Social Security Number to the application? Because I don’t have one. To obtaining in-state tuition rates—Why is it that I am being charged fees as an international student? To applying for financial aid—I’ve done everything I have been asked to do and complete. Why did I not get financial aid? Having a resource center that primarily supports undocumented students means that my team and I (I work with one excellent Graduate Student Assistant enrolled in our fantastic Higher Education program, and five outstanding undergraduate student assistants) must be well-versed with topics around admissions and records, financial aid, federal and state laws affecting undocumented students, and student development.
With so many different needs—and with students contacting us via email, phone, and in person on a regular basis—it is no wonder why members of my team consider themselves the Olivia Popes of our campus. When it comes down to it, we are in the business of ensuring that our students are successful on our campus. To ensure this, we advocate for them, we handle issues accurately and swiftly as they come, and we are proactive in hosting programs in true Gladiator form.
After undocumented students engage with us in the TDRC—and provide us with the opportunity to serve them—they go back to their classrooms, and their study groups, and their cocurricular commitments with school-related issues and concerns addressed. Their sense of relief is often immediate—I can tell you this, because I have been in countless meetings with undocumented students who have felt that they must drop out of school, but no longer feel this way after they have given us an opportunity to serve them.
Like all students with multiple identities, however, our undocumented students are not just students. They are friends, siblings, sons, daughters, cousins, aunts, and uncles—they belong to a complex family, and the word itself is defined differently by each of our undocumented students. As such, we might be able to alleviate school issues and concerns for this group of students, but there are things that not even Olivia Pope herself can fix. As it was discussed earlier this week as I shared pizza with some of our undocumented students, there are things that just can’t be easily handled.
As was discussed in detail, our undocumented students worry about losing family members to deportation. Worry constantly whether Immigration and Customs Enforcement will knock on their door, and will jeopardize their family foundation. They worry about the ever-changing laws and policies that currently—and temporarily—allow them to enjoy certain benefits (such as the ability to legally work and drive). They worry about whether they will be successful, and whether they will be permitted by Law to practice in their chosen field upon graduation. They worry about whether they themselves will remain in the country, and wonder what would happen if they were not. And they—like all of our students—also worry about the rising costs of tuition, books, and living expenses.
Many of us work with undocumented students and provide them with the best academic and cocurricular support that we can provide. Many of us have the beautiful opportunity to witness our undocumented students do great things during their time on our college campuses. We witness their successes. Their resiliency. Their drive. But our undocumented students are human, and their worries are truly unique to them. These worries are carried day in and day out, to and from class, before and after graduation. We must continue to support our students, connect them with one another, advocate for them, and recognize that there are worries that we might not see, but that do in fact exist.
This post is part of our #CSAM15 series, in partnership with NASPA. Through these posts, we hope to highlight what it means to have a career in Student Affairs with a diverse group of contributors. With a focus on the students, defining Student Affairs, hot topics, and Striving Towards Betterment, there will be a lot to learn about this month! For more information, check out the intro post by John Weng at NASPA. Be sure to read the other posts in this series too!