Creating Communities of Support for DACA, Undocumented, and Immigrant Children & Students

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Dr. Susana Muñoz, Assistant Professor of Higher Education at Colorado State University, addresses the crowd at an April 12 event held by SED’s Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Committee. // PHOTO BY PAIGE KELLY

On Wednesday, April 12 the School of Education’s Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Committee hosted the second of two events in a discussion series on supporting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), undocumented, and immigrant students.

The event, held in the Kilachand Honors College and sponsored by Phi lota Alpha Fraternity and the SED Graduate Student Association, featured guest speaker Dr. Susana Muñoz, an Assistant Professor of Higher Education at Colorado State University whose research focuses on issues of access, equity, and college persistence for undocumented Latinx students.

Dr. Muñoz herself was born in Mexico and immigrated to the United States when she was six years old. “Growing up as an immigrant, one of the things that I realized was that I didn’t understand the privilege I had when I got my citizenship as a ten-year-old,” Dr. Muñoz told an audience of BU undergraduate and graduate students, alumni, faculty, and staff, as well as visitors from institutions including Eastern Connecticut State University, Suffolk University, Emerson College, and Boston College.

“I wasn’t separated from my family in Mexico,” she continued. “In fact we could go visit them, and I was able to retain my language through that. That’s a privilege. I never have to worry about deportation. I never have to worry about separation.”

Now, though, Dr. Muñoz says that more and more college students are having to question their own safety and ability to stay in the country, as well as their family’s. She told the audience about her research around the persistence of DACA and undocumented students, despite their oftentimes being denied access to the same federally-funded academic and financial supports as their peers.

“How do they get to the place where they can fully disclose who they are and feel liberated,” Dr. Muñoz asked the audience.

After an introduction to the history of immigration in the United States, Dr. Muñoz spoke more specifically about the challenges that DACA and undocumented students face on college and university campuses in the U.S.

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Audience members engaged in group discussion on support systems and resources for DACA and undocumented students on college campuses. // PHOTO BY PAIGE KELLY

“Financial barriers are huge, as are mental health issues and language issues. When students talk about pain and trauma, they want to talk about it in their native language because that’s their heart language,” she said, adding that oftentimes resources on campus aren’t available in multiple languages.

Dr. Muñoz asked participants to talk in groups about what resources are available at audience members’ institutions that are specifically for undocumented students, and later, what more can and should be done? She addressed the idea of sanctuary campuses, stating that it is a badge of honor to be considered one, but adding that it’s just a start.

“We don’t want to oversell the fact that we’re able to protect our students fully. Because while we try to do our best…there’s a limitation to that if it concerns [Immigration and Customs Enforcement],” Dr. Muñoz said. “But if you’re not serving your students, if you’re not providing resources, if you’re not being intentional about creating spaces and about creating curriculum that mirrors their experiences, it’s not truly a sanctuary campus.”

Audience members actively contributed to a discussion about what they would like to see happen on their own campuses in terms of creating communities of support for undocumented students, as well as what they could do in their own practice as higher education administrators, faculty members, or peers.

“The event turnout is a testament to the importance, the timeliness, and the commitment of BU faculty and staff to supporting a community for DACA and undocumented college students,” event organizer and School of Education lecturer in Higher Education Administration Raul Fernandez said.

The turnout was equally as impressive for the first event in the series, held on February 28 and featuring guest speakers Lisa Fortuna, MD, MPH and Amarilys Marrero-Goclowski, J.D. Their talk and discussion with the audience focused on the psychological and legal needs of younger immigrant children and their families.

Dr. Fortuna provided insight into what challenges and traumas immigrant children and their families might have faced in their home country or on their journey to the United States, while Ms. Marrero-Goclowski spoke to the legal proceedings they would be subject to. Video recordings of both portions of the Feb. 28 talk are available here and here.

By Lisa Randall