The first undocumented student group was formed at Cal Poly by former Dean of College of Science and Mathematics Phil Bailey, eight years ago.
Since then, the group disseminated and Rising Immigrant Scholars Education (RISE) and the Undocumented Student Working Group rose to continue Bailey’s work of creating a safe space for undocumented students. With the opening of the DREAM Center, that safe place has become a physical reality.
“Even now when I think about it, it’s ridiculous. I wasn’t the only undocumented student on this campus. But at the time [before I knew my resources], it was hard to come out and say something like that. Now that there is a DREAM Center, you’re [able to acknowledge] that your population even exists,” a RISE member and history and political science senior said (editor’s note: due to documentation status, the student’s name has been omitted).
Immigration Symposium: Strengthening communities and higher education
RISE hosted its first Immigration Symposium Friday to recognize the community members who helped make the DREAM Center possible.
“Now that we have the DREAM Center, we really wanted to reach out to the community to K through 12 schools and the local community colleges and let them know that we are here and that there is somewhere that they can go,” the RISE member said. “And also, [we wanted] to emphasize how big of a difference community strength can make.”
The symposium panel consisted of keynote speaker Dario Fernandez, the DREAM Center coordinator of California State University, Northridge; Cal Poly Multicultural Center Coordinator Jose Leon; Diana Valdivia, undocumented student coordinator at University of California, Santa Barbara Erica Reyes; aide to Congressman Salud Carbajal, and Dreamers RoadMap App founder Sarahi Espinoza Salamanca.
The panelists spoke about their experiences and efforts to advocate for undocumented students. Many panelists explained that to serve the needs of the students, they must thoroughly listen to those students.
“I have to ensure that I am not speaking for students, I am working with students to ensure they have a voice,” Leon said during the panel discussion.
The symposium went on to honor local immigration attorney Amber Heffner, RISE Co-Coordinator Catherine Trujillo and Bailey for their impact on the undocumented
“What [the DREAM Center] means to me is that the students have a place to go and someone to talk to. It is a safe place where they can talk to a counselor and to each other,” Bailey said. “But I will tell you what it does not mean to me. It doesn’t mean that we don’t still have a responsibility [to undocumented students] on the rest of the campus.”
As Bailey and other panelists said, the DREAM Center is only the start of the work that needs to be done for undocumented student advocacy.
Future plans for the DREAM Center
According to Interim Coordinator and STEM Volunteers in Service to America worker Casey McCullough, since opening the DREAM Center, they have been trying to find a permanent coordinator. McCullough said the Undocumented Student Working Group and RISE chose candidates and hope to have an official coordinator by July.
“We are really looking forward to next year where we will have the resource coordinator here,” McCullough said. “We will have the center all year long so we will have a lot more opportunity to grow what we can offer throughout the Center.”
Though the Center is not yet at its full potential, McCullough and the Undocumented Student Working Group have been able to bring in resources such as attorney Heffner to answer students’ specific legal questions.
“Before, whenever I had a question, I didn’t know who to go to or if I could go to anybody. I didn’t know who I could talk to. But now I know, at least I have this little community built around me,” the RISE member said.
The Undocumented Student Working Group also teaches ally trainings as a way to expand their community reach. Since the trainings began, there have been approximately 250 allies certified in the community as well as 700 people who have completed stage one of the trainings.
“One of the ways we can grow support for students is to educate allies on campus … of what the needs are for undocumented students, give them information and tools so they can go back to their departments, programs or organizations and implement what they learned,” McCullough said.
The center recently received $1,200 from the Career Services Diversity Fund which will be used for an Undocumented Student Orientation week, McCullough said.