Last month, in support of its strategic goal of becoming an equity-serving institution that works for all, CU Denver’s cabinet and deans attended an “UndocuAllies” (Undocumented Allies) training session to better support undocumented students, staff, and their families. CU Denver’s leadership team marked the first in the University of Colorado System to participate and self-select into the training—showing its support of and care for this issue and its people.
Led by two University of Colorado Boulder experts, Clinical Professor of Law Violeta Chapin and Assistant Director of Intercultural Engagement at the Center of Inclusion and Social Change Stephanie Roberts, the training highlighted the history of U.S. immigration and provided an understanding of the challenges undocumented students experience and the opportunities and resources they need to pursue higher education.
Out of the 11 million undocumented people living in the United States, 17,000 of them live in Colorado and are known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), those who entered the U. S. unlawfully as children. On a renewable two-year term, DACA students are protected from deportation and given a temporary social security number and employment authorization. Still, these students, as well as community members, face stigma and extreme challenges in education and life, including ineligibility for federal (and potentially state) financial aid, fear of sharing status and who to trust, and ongoing concern about the uncertain future of DACA.
“We are committed to helping provide the right resources and trainings to reduce hurdles for our students and increase understanding among our campus community members,” shared CU Denver’s Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Antonio Farias. “As always, our aim is to provide a welcoming environment where education works for all, and this training is one of the many things CU Denver is doing to make sure that undocumented students and their families feel like they belong here. I am very proud of CU Denver and our leadership team for taking steps to get smarter on these issues and put practices in place that will ultimately educate more students.”
Chapin emphasized that for children who immigrated to this country as young people, there needs to be sensitivity toward their situation, needs, and educational goals. “DACA students aren’t eligible for federal financial aid, therefore we need to offer other options for them such as state, college financial aid or access to private scholarships,” she said.
While anyone can go to school regardless of immigration status, many states charge undocumented students out-of-state tuition making it difficult for them to afford college. Fortunately, thanks to the Colorado Asset Act of 2103, students attending college in Colorado have access to in-state tuition if they meet residency requirements. “We recognize that as a university we have the power to influence whether undocumented students can attend and afford college, which not only transforms their lives, but the lives of entire families, communities, and generations. Our goal is to ensure CU Denver provides robust resources and services to best serve all students coming from numerous and diverse countries of origin, and make them feel cared for and supported,” Chancellor Marks said.
Trainers reinforced the need to debunk the myth that all immigrants coming to the U.S. are from south of the border. It is a “single narrative” that is not all together true, they said. There are numerous and diverse countries of origin—55% of immigrants are Latinx, 45% are from countries globally, and Asian and Pacific Islander are the largest growing immigrant populations in the U.S.
To be the best advocates for all students, Roberts says the training is a starting point and the conversations must continue. “Universities need to have undocumented students as a named and acknowledged group in their campus planning and have strategies to address the unique needs this community has—academically, financially, and systemically. Depending on the campus, this may look different, but in general there are several tiers that hold steady—engaged faculty and staff committed to supporting students. Without a base knowledge of the realities facing our undocumented community and where our systems may reinforce barriers, we can’t hope to be effective allies and accomplices to our students in pursuing their goals at our institutions and beyond.”
Upon completion of the training, CU Denver’s leadership team is better equipped to support undocumented students and create a more welcoming campus environment through:
- Understanding terminology used when discussing undocumented-related issues.
- Understanding the diversity of the undocumented community.
- Understanding the history of U.S. immigration policies and laws.
- Understanding DACA and ASSET and their impact on CU Denver students.
- Understanding challenges, opportunities, and resources for undocumented students on CU Denver’s campus.
CU Denver’s efforts are already underway with the search for a full-time DACA coordinator and the implementation of an Undocumented Student Support Fund, which has raised $6,630 to produce attainable resources for undocumented, asylee, and refugee students.