Written By: Noya Kansky, CSU STEM VISTA 2014-16 Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority and Underrepresented Participation in STEM
This past year, I have had the distinct pleasure of coordinating and leading the Cal Poly SLO Undocumented Student Working Group, which is dedicated to supporting undocumented students. We are a group of staff, faculty, and administrators committed to supporting undocumented students at academic, social, and institutional levels.
We are from TRiO programs, Career Services, faculty development services, Women & Gender Studies, STEM equity programs, Cross Cultural Centers, and more – in short, we represent a lot of different offices and departments on campus. I think what has contributed to the success of our group is that our work is driven by the narratives and experiences of undocumented students, we come from various odds and ends of campus, and we have successfully melded the expertise we’ve gained from our offices with our passion for supporting these students.The pinnacle achievement of our group has been to develop professional development trainings for faculty and staff to allow them to do similarly.
These trainings are divided into 3 parts:
- Foundational Knowledge in Supporting Undocumented students in accordance with CA and federal law.
- Taking the Next Steps in making campus departments/offices/programs more UndocuFriendly.
- Comprehensive Ally training, which focuses on becoming an effective mentor, advocate and Ally to and for undocumented students.
Between February, March, April, and May of this year we will have offered 24 trainings that (at least) fall into one of the three categories of above to faculty and staff, often reaching capacity/near capacity at each session. We have even generated demand among individual departments and offices – a couple weeks ago we provided a 5-hour Ally training for College of Engineering Advising, and in this fall we hope to work with our Psychology department. It has been very exciting!
Recently, we have begun to work with our campus Office of University Diversity & Inclusivity towards “legitimizing” our working group. It sounds great, but I would almost say it’s bittersweet news. I mean, it is fantastic that this move would afford our group a budget, a place to report our project, and of course, institutional support. BUT, the need for this legitimization process was also a result of pushback received by a few members of our working group from their supervisors. We also received a bummer hit, when one of our group members (a newly appointed part-time point person for undocumented students) left Cal Poly unexpectedly. This has become just part of an unfortunate trend for undocumented students who have experienced a strong pattern of people coming and going. Even further, it’s unfortunate because higher education in general has difficulty retaining staff and especially staff of color.
Navigating campus politics (and politics at large) has been a huge part of this experience. Keeping up with the presidential elections and platforms of each candidate, and general national rhetoric around immigration is key. The environment for undocumented Americans is volatile.
The progress on our campus has been super exciting, but it does not come without a fair share of blood (mostly paper cuts), sweat (generally speaking, I just sweat a lot… can’t really help that), and tears (you know, allergies… but also some of the good stuff, too).