Amid student calls on the administration to better support undocumented students, especially in light of the Trump presidency, the University launched the undocumented student initiative to institutionalize resources for affected students last semester.
The initiative was created after the University’s announcement last September that undocumented students and students who qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program are now considered domestic students in the admission process and are therefore eligible for need-blind financial aid. The initiative was informed by proposals that students presented to the administration May 2016.
Resources and support services
The undocumented student initiative seeks to create “institutional support systems that will assist and serve the needs of … the undocumented student community” at Brown, said Kevin Escudero, assistant professor of American studies and ethnic studies. Since October 2016, Escudero has served as the Special Advisor to the Provost for the undocumented student initiative. In this position, Escudero said that his responsibilities include setting up “programming (and) reaching out to students.” Escudero did not provide The Herald with an estimate of the number of undocumented students currently on campus.
Escudero said that he has worked in coordination with Associate Director for Campus Life Ricky Gresh, Associate Dean of the College Yolanda Rome and Associate Dean for Diversity and Student Life Maitrayee Bhattacharyya to develop the initiative. In addition, David Liendo Uriona GS was hired in December to be the initiative’s graduate student coordinator.
Escudero also helps connect students with legal resources. “The University will pay for the initial appointment with an attorney for undocumented students who want to talk about renewing or applying for DACA (status) or personal or family legal situations,” Escudero said. Usually, this arrangement allows students to meet with attorneys twice during their time at Brown, since most immigration attorneys don’t charge for the initial consultation appointment, Escudero said. While the University foots the bill, students are free to choose their attorneys, he added.
The Undocumented Student Initiative Advisory Board was created in March to facilitate conversation between students and administrators on issues faced by undocumented students at Brown. These administrators include representatives from the Office of the Provost, Office of Financial Aid, Office of Admission and First-Generation College and Low-Income Student Center. Marisa Quinn, chief of staff for the provost, said that the student advisory board allows the administration to “find out if some of the things we’re doing make sense (and if) there were things that (the students) see as essential that we should be considering to do as a University.”
“Right now there (are) five students on the advisory board,” Escudero said. “We have a diverse set of people. … Some people are undocumented or DACAmented, some people are part of mixed status families and some people … identify as allies of undocumented” students.
In addition, students on the board receive “a modest stipend to acknowledge their work and time,” he added.
In their first meeting in March, the advisory board talked about engaging with alums for support, expanding resources for graduate students, increasing the accessibility of graduate programs to undocumented students and funding research and internships, said Silvina Hernandez ’17, a member of the board.
Escudero also said that he has given presentations to staff members from the Dean of the College, Curricular Resource Center, Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion and Office of Financial Aid, in addition to other administrative departments. The presentations were intended to inform staff members about proper “terminology” to use and “the best approaches and best practices (to use) when working with undocumented students,” he added.
However, Escudero’s contract as a faculty fellow expires June 30. The priorities of the initiative for the coming year are “yet to be determined” but “will be based on the new program director of the FLI Center,” he said. The University announced Monday that Julio Reyes ’12, current program director of Oberlin College and Conservatory’s Undocumented Student Initiative, will be the director of the center starting June 15.
“I see the initiative as a product of student organizing, collaboration and engagement with faculty and staff,” Hernandez said. “I really think that this is one of the strengths of the initiative. That continued engagement among students, faculty and staff is what … determines the success of the initiative.”
Role of student activism
The initiative builds on the work of a group of students in Escudero’s class, “ETHN 1750A: Immigrant Social Movements: Bridging Theory and Practice,” who crafted a list of demands that were presented to the University May 2016 to better support DACA and undocumented students.
Escudero also said that it was important to him to blend activism with academia in his class. “I tried to encourage students to proactively take what they’re learning and apply it to real world issues,” he said.
Students came up with the proposals after doing “research for part of class and work on their own as part of (the Brown Immigrant Rights Coalition) and other spaces,” Escudero said. Members of BIRC also said that their organization led the student group last spring.
In a written statement to The Herald, members of the BIRC explained their contributions to proposals. Members wrote that “the main change BIRC advocated for was changing undocumented/DACAmented students’ designation as ‘international’ students to ‘domestic’ students when applying for financial aid. We recognized from our own experiences that many undocumented students in the United States tend to be low-income, therefore a good financial aid package is crucial in attending institutions such as Brown when undocu/DACA-mented.”
Students introduced their proposals in a meeting with Provost Richard Locke, Dean of the College Maud Mandel and other staff members, including Liza Cariaga-Lo, vice president of academic development, diversity and inclusion and herself, Quinn said. “The students had done a lot of research and came forward (to say that) it’s time to rethink the way we admit and support undocumented and DACA students,” she said.
Originally, students asked for an “undocumented student services director” who could connect students to legal resources, according to a copy of a written proposal shared with The Herald by BIRC. However, while the University agreed to make changes to the admission process, they declined to hire a “dean or full-time staff member to work fully with undocumented students,” Escudero said.
BIRC members wrote to The Herald that students who crafted the demands based the initial proposals off of models implemented by other schools like Cornell, Pomona College, Providence College and the University of California at Berkeley. They wrote that “schools like (the University of California at Los Angeles) and Berkeley have undocumented student programs with staff that help support students with their transition to college as well as to provide a community for students. They also have a webpage that clearly displays what information is available for undocu/DACA-mented students. Some of the schools mentioned in our recommendations even have designated offices or centers for undocu/DACA-mented students, which helps create a physical safe space for students. Brown still does not offer these resources.”
Students’ short term demands included ensuring that the dean of financial advising is attuned to the needs of DACA and undocumented students and that the University establish a temporary office dedicated to undocumented students. In the long term, they called on the University to set up an undocumented student center.
Escudero added that because the University was in the process of planning the FLi Center during the same time period, “the administration said, ‘Why don’t we think about undocumented student experiences as part of the First-Gen, Low-Income Center,” as they believed that the students involved in the planning of both projects were asking them for the same things.
A website listing resources will be finished later this semester, Escudero said.
Following the presidential election, BIRC issued an additional set of demands in November asking the University to declare Brown a sanctuary campus, a request that was denied by the administration.
At an event hosted by the Office of the Provost, an immigration lawyer was invited to speak to DACA and undocumented students. A student at the event asked about the legitimacy of sanctuary campuses, and the lawyer reportedly responded that the term was an “empty gesture,” according to BIRC’s written statement to The Herald.
BIRC members wrote that “Neither the lawyer nor Brown’s administration ever understood the power and symbolism behind declaring itself as a sanctuary campus, nor did they attempt to speak to students about how the sanctuary campus definition could be expanded to become much more than just a symbol.”