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Life as a DACA student at Beloit College

On Sept. 5, 2017, the Trump Administration rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA was an immigration policy that allowed undocumented immigrants who entered the United States as minors to receive protection from deportation and a work permit. With the ending of the program 800,000 immigrants suddenly find themselves worrying about their fate once again–including several Beloit College students.

Alondra Guzman’20 is currently juggling figuring out her major, her position on the executive board of Beloit’s Voces, and job as an RA. She must also juggle navigating college as an undocumented student. The path to Beloit was not easy, as is often the case for thousands of undocumented youth. “In high school I was always a pretty good student. I had decent grades. I was always on honor roll and took AP classes but when it came to my senior year I really struggled because that’s when it hit me. I’m different,” she explained.

While her peers began attending events like FAFSA workshops, Guzman would sit at the back of the class looking for alternative resources. “That’s when I seriously started thinking, oh, there’s probably a chance I won’t go to college,” she recalled. “There’s no way my family could afford it. I spent so many hours of my day looking at resources and scholarships. I got denied by a lot of them and that was devastating.”

But Beloit offered Guzman a hefty scholarship and she chose it, excited to be the first in her family to attend a four-year college.

During her first year at Beloit, Guzman felt like she didn’t belong. “My freshman year I felt like I was the only [undocumented student] and felt that it was obvious. At first I was very scared about being open about it and sometimes I wouldn’t think about it but when [people would start talking about] opportunities like research, internships, study abroad, it I felt like I was the only one not saying anything. I would feel so left out,” she said.

It’s only been recently that Beloit College seems to have been making an effort to support DACA students.

Most of these efforts have come from Paul Dionne and the Office of Academic Diversity and Inclusiveness (OADI). Dionne is the current Inclusive Success Coordinator and has been actively working with DACA students on campus. Dionne explained that he took on the project last year because, “[Beloit has] been admitting students for years now but there’s never been any formal oversight in terms of people coordinating their experience on campus and having access to the resources they need in order to be successful. So that’s something that I took on last year as sort of the lead coordinator on campus to support undocumented students.”

Currently, Dionne has been focused on the basics, like making sure students receive a work permit to work on campus, and offering support for undocumented students on campus. “What I did last year was, I reached out to  all students and asked them ‘What do you need?’ and I came up with a list of things and I’ve been trying to check things off the list,” Dionne stated. An example of one of the ways Dionne has been trying to improve Beloit for DACA students was a project he completed over the summer. “Another concern they had was there were a number of opportunities on campus but… there wasn’t enough clarity on eligibility guidelines. So over the summer I worked with a student worker and with a number of offices on campus to figure out how we could remedy that so that all of the opportunities that are available to students explicitly indicate eligibility.” Paul pointed to students often being hesitant to reach out for clarification in situations like this. Completing the project meant that “they don’t have to out themselves to ask somebody. They can just see the website. So instead of having the burden be on the student we’re now placing the burden on the institution to better serve undocumented students.”

And while Guzman struggled her first year as an undocumented student on campus, a freshman student who wished to remain anonymous thinks the work that begun last year has made a large difference.

She’s a first-year student from Chicago and she says that “Beloit has been extremely helpful,” more so than she imagined it would be. “The OADI is a huge support. They keep us updated, they offer us security, they offer us different support systems” and the ability to connect with other DACA students on campus and with upperclassmen who have faced similar issues has all contributed to a better sense of belonging, the student said.

She thinks Trump’s decision is only going to make Beloit more active in getting to know and support students like her and other immigrants on campus.

President Scott Bierman made it clear that Beloit College would continue to support DACA students on campus. In a statement sent out to the community Bierman recognized that the “recent announcement rescinding Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) creates fear and uncertainty for loved members of our community.” Bierman called back to an earlier statement sent in January in which he rejected racism and xenophobia. In reference to the DACA decision Bierman emphasized that “Beloit College will continue: to promote the essential importance of equity and inclusion in achieving our liberal arts mission; to welcome students in a nondiscriminatory manner no matter their race, citizenship, immigration status, or religion; to support and protect students without regard for their immigration status. This includes requiring a subpoena or judicial order from local, state or federal law enforcement authorities on campus and protecting student privacy to the fullest extent under the law.”

Bierman concluded the statement by addressing DACA students: “To our DACA students, your friends and families, our hearts are with you. We stand with you and your right to live, be educated, and work in your country — the United States.”

Another DACA student, Mauricio Sosa Cárdenas’19 reiterated that “life at Beloit as a DACA student is complex,” and while “friends on campus that know about this piece of my identity … make me feel accepted and safe…to be myself, there are other students on campus that indirectly make me feel threatened.”

Cárdenas and other DACA students have made it clear that the false messages and misinformation spread about students and families like their own are often the most hurtful.

Dionne agreed, stating, “I think there are a lot of misunderstandings about the DACA program and when Jeff Sessions said a lot of falsehoods in talking about the program that doesn’t help settle the record so I would encourage people to learn more about the program.”

Dionne also believes that it is important that “more people in the community recognize that this has a profound impact on members of our own community. It’s not just a federal issue that’s floating, a Washington D.C issue it’s something that affects people on campus.”

For now, Dionne and his office will continue working to make sure students get to graduation. “Depending on what the future holds I think the college needs to make a decision if they’re going to continue to admit undocumented students. We also need to have a more comprehensive plan on how we’re going to get [students] to graduation,” he continued. Dionne added that, “I would love to see the college doing more efforts to identify pathways to citizenship for undocumented students.”

Students might have already seen informational posters around campus posted by the campus movement, Students for an Inclusive Campus (SIC), that explain the DACA program the five bills on the table to replace the policy.

The OADI will also be hosting a panel on Oct. 9 to expand on DACA student’s experience on campus and to share more information.

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