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No “one-size-fits-all” solution for undocumented students at Mac

On Tuesday’s meeting, the Macalester College Student Government (MCSG) unanimously voted to pass a resolution aimed at addressing the needs of undocumented and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students at Macalester.

Seniors Andy Han ’19, Erika Aguilar ’19, Min Hee Cho ’19 and Channelle Ndagire ’19 co-authored the resolution and introduced it last week. It targets the offices of Admissions and Financial Aid, the Career Development Center (CDC), the Laurie Hamre Center for Health & Wellness, student programming and services and legal counsel for undocumented students.

The authors believe that bringing their resolution to MCSG will help them further their goals and encourage the support of the student body.

“The idea is that if we have the backing of the student government—that is, the backing of the student body,” Han said, “it helps convince the decision makers to take into consideration some of the proposals.”

Inspired by the rhetoric during the government shutdown in January, Han decided to take direct action to support Macalester’s undocumented and DACA students.

“Over winter break, there was the whole shutdown and one of the talking points was possibly creating a bipartisan compromise to help the Dreamers, referring to the students with DACA status,” Han said. “That got me thinking: how are DACA students being supported at Macalester? What can I do, as someone who is not undocumented, to be an ally?”

Upon returning to campus, Han reached out to Aguilar, Cho and Ndagire, who he knew were passionate about supporting the undocumented student community.

While Han drew on two years of MCSG experience, the content of the resolution ultimately came from discussions that undocumented and DACA students have initiated since arriving on campus.

“It’s all been from conversations that [have happened] over the past few years, themes that just come up over and over again,” Cho said. “It’s simple things that college students need while they’re here — just more specific to the unique needs that undocumented students have.”

Central to the proposal is the creation of a permanent staff position to support undocumented and DACA students. Currently, program Coordinator for Student Success Cárol Mejía works with first-generation students, students of color and students who come from mixed-status families.

“These are all identities that are historically underrepresented on campus,” Mejía said. “My work is to make sure that the structures that exist are paying attention to the fact that things have been unintentionally designed for students from middle-class backgrounds and white students in particular.”

While these historically underrepresented identities share similarities, there are important distinctions.

“[Undocumented and DACA students’] needs are immensely different from students that are here on visas [and] from domestic students of color that have any sort of legal status,” Mejía said. “Because each student has a different story, I find that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for any programming relating to undocumented students.” Although all four authors are seniors, they hope that the formalized approach will continue to provoke institutional change after they graduate.

“By having a resolution — by bringing student government in — the role of supporting undocumented members of our community isn’t just the responsibility of three students, it’s all of our responsibility,” Han said. “By having a structure in place, it guarantees that even when we graduate, there are people here that care about those issues.”

Establishing a structure for undocumented and DACA students to access resources, both during and after their time at Macalester, was central to the motivation behind the resolution.

One undocumented student noted that life at Macalester without a visa can be a “very lonely experience.” As not all undocumented students feel comfortable coming forward about their status, it can be a struggle to find those who have lived similar experiences. “Especially if you’re looking for resources that will help you, you don’t really know where to start,” they said.

Issues surrounding healthcare, internships, studying abroad and employment after Macalester can all be difficult to navigate, especially for undocumented students.

“It is just simple things that college students need while they’re here, just more specific to the unique needs that undocumented students have,” Cho said. “Of course all students want to have information about finding jobs and internships, but the entire process is particular for undocumented students.”

“We’re working with the [Center for Study Away] to make sure that there are also resources for undocumented students and students of color who have completely different experiences abroad than white students do,” Mejía said.

The resolution strives to address the unique needs of undocumented and DACA students and get them any necessary support, ultimately lessening the burden on the student to navigate the tricky situation.

“We are paying attention to nuances of the experience without addressing them in a way that puts the burden on the student themselves, but again, makes sure the institution is taking responsibility for some of the things that exist that make spaces inaccessible to folks,” Mejía said.

Hannah (she/her/hers) '22 is a staff reporter for The Mac Weekly. She is from Hopkins, Minnesota.

February 28, 2019

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