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Discussion on how to support undocumented students

April 14, 2011


Aurora Chang, director of the college’s McNair program, recently wrote, “I know that many of you - students, faculty, and staff - share my concern and desire to create a welcoming and supportive environment for our undocumented students.”

To that end, Chang is leading a discussion group focusing on the issue of supporting undocumented students today at 12:30 p.m., in Weeks Lounge of Pearsons Hall. Below, she talks to the Terrarium about the issue.

Terrarium: Your own experience as an undocumented student has moved you to help students in the same situation; [l.c.]Could you expound a little bit on that situation? What did it feel like to be an undocumented student?

Aurora Chang: Being undocumented was frightening. In the recesses of my mind, I always feared that, at any instance, all of the dreams of my family could disappear. So long as we were "found out," we could be deported. This knowledge incited me to excel academically and to always show respect for myself and others. Any false move or disclosure about my undocumented status could have dire consequences.  As an undocumented student, all stakes were high and I was reminded of this consistently.

T: Have you had a lot of response to your initial invitation to meet about this issue? What have been some of the responses? Are people receptive?

A.C.: I have received passionate responses from my initial invitation, all supportive of this issue.  I have not received any pushback.  Some examples include the following (quotes from email responses I have received):

  • “What IS an undocumented student?”
  • “I think this is an important issue and will plan to be there.”
  • “Why don't you bring in someone from Senator Kohl's office?”
  • “I am intensely interested in this issue. I have had many conversations with students over the years; three this semester alone.”
  • “I am very much interested and thank you for leading the charge.”

Do you have any idea how many undocumented students are on campus? Are they generally “out” about it, or more under-the-radar?

A.C.: My understanding is that there are eight undocumented students on campus.  From what I have been able to observe and gather, students are not generally "out" about this.  As you can imagine, this type of disclosure can be very risky for students on many levels.  It is important that while we support our undocumented students, we also respect their desire for privacy.