The future for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is uncertain, but the Cal Poly UndocuAlly Working Group is committed to be an ally and resource for undocumented students on campus.
UndocuAlly is a group within the Office of University Diversity and Inclusion comprised of faculty, staff, administrators and students whose goal is to make Cal Poly’s campus safer and friendlier for undocumented students.
UndocuAlly Coordinator Zulema Aleman said helping undocumented students on campus starts with creating a more understanding environment.
“It creates a better campus climate,” Aleman said. “That’s even what our first training does, it [asks], ‘How can you as an individual create a better campus climate for others?’”
Training the next wave of allies
UndocuAlly, formerly known as the Undocumented Student Working Group, offers a three-part training series. Its training sessions “Foundational Knowledge,” “Taking the Next Steps” and “Becoming an Ally” focus on different aspects of supporting undocumented students.
For instance, the second installment, “Taking the Next Steps,” addresses ways in which organizations and groups on campus can be “undocu-friendly.” Participants are encouraged to think about how they can better support their undocumented or mixed-status students within their own departments and programs.
Due to their status, undocumented students and students from mixed-status families, or families with both documented and undocumented members, may not have access to opportunities. “Taking the Next Steps” and the other sessions are meant to challenge campus organizations to think about how they can ensure these students can also participate and get the most out of their Cal Poly experience.
Women’s and Gender Studies Department Chair Jane Lehr is a member of UndocuAlly within the College of Liberal Arts.
“A lot of times when people think about being an ally, they think about the work they might do as an individual,” Lehr said. “We’re really thinking about university transformation.”
Each training includes presentations encompassing information, such as DACA in the news, state or federal laws and policies. By also working in group or pair activities, participants are encouraged to collaborate and join a network of allies.
“We’ve been incredibly excited by the enthusiasm that people have shown in signing up for the trainings, then going back to doing the much harder work of analyzing their own organizations,” Lehr said.
Giving participants a different perspective
While the training sessions are meant to provide participants with basic knowledge, they also aim to brand what it means to be an ally. UndocuAlly hopes to change participants’ beliefs and advocate a better understanding of undocumented students.
“It comes down to building some understanding and help humanize the experiences of others,” UndocuAlly member within Student Academic Services Steve Ross said. “If [students] don’t know anything about these experiences in being undocumented, they can expect to be challenged in what their own perceptions are.”
UndocuAlly members additionally highlighted that being undocumented is not a generalized experience. Race, gender, class and sexuality play into the identity of undocumented students as well.
“It’s good to celebrate those differences and to be aware of these differences when working with undocumented students or learning about them,” Aleman said.
Creating new programs for new challenges
As DACA continues to make headlines, group members educate themselves on these updates accordingly. Potential participants can expect more supplemental trainings to be added in upcoming quarters that will be devoted to new issues.
For example, current immigration policies have hindered immigrant survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence from seeking legal remedies. In addition to the three-part series, specialized sessions will discuss topics like sexual assault and domestic violence in greater depth.
“If you aren’t looking for [this information], it won’t just magically pop up,” Ross said. “It’s important for students to learn because it means being proactive in [their] own education about the world they live in.”
Specialized trainings will help undocumented students know how to face specific problems. For example, UndocuAlly member Erica Jorgensen of the Cal Poly International Center is in the process of planning a session to educate undocumented students on their opportunities to study abroad, such as going through a national exchange program rather than an international one.
UndocuAlly members emphasized that students are not meant to be experts. Instead, the training sessions provide educational tools for undocumented students as well as those who simply want to learn more and be an ally.
“As long as you’re gaining that knowledge, we’re happy to share it,” Aleman said.
Those who want to get more involved and become a member of UndocuAlly must first go through all five hours of the training series. For more information, visit UndocuAlly’s website.
“By going through these trainings, it’s another way to expand your own thinking of the world,” Ross said. “All it asks is a few hours of your time.”