by Sabrina Holcomb
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“Riding the roller coaster of the Trump administration can make you feel overwhelmed and helpless,” says Loan Dao, a professor of Asian-American studies at UMass Boston and leader of the Immigrant Student Task Force, a campus advocacy program serving a diverse group of DACA college students. When we spoke to Dao earlier this year, she was bracing for a decision on DACA. Now that Trump has rescinded DACA and educators are organizing to help students navigate the crisis, Dao speaks to NEA Edjustice about the special set of challenges faced by undocumented college students.
EJ: Have you already seen the impact of the decision on your campus?
LD: We’ve definitely seen a drop in self-reporting DACA students since the announcement. It’s not clear whether students are leaving school or just not reporting their DACA status. Either way, the decision is pushing students back into the shadows. A few students have left school to work full time to prepare financially for whatever comes. They’re trying to be hopeful and think of it as a hiatus. I find so much inspiration in the way my students are handling this. Many were heartbroken at the announcement but they’re not going to let this break them down.
EJ: You’re worried that undocumented college students, in particular, aren’t getting the support they need.
LD: In K-12 schools, undocumented students get more individualized attention because they’re in the same classroom much of the day, and educators are more likely to build relationships with their families. In contrast, community colleges, where many undocumented students enter higher education, are much less likely to build support systems that can help students in times of crisis.
Community colleges rely heavily on adjunct faculty who may not be there the next year, and because most of them are commuter schools, they tend not to have the kind of student social life found at traditional universities. UMass Boston is largely a commuter school, so we started the Immigrant Student Task Force to provide the network and information channels students need.
EJ: How does the task force help you respond to this latest emergency?
LD: Preexisting relationships and infrastructure allow us to respond more quickly in crisis mode. We’re able to keep in contact with students, even when they’ve left school, and give them support. Because of the task force, we had our first undocugraduation ceremony for undocumented students last academic year. Students organized the event, which included live streaming and video messages so the graduates’ families at home could see the graduation. Top administrators attended and stayed for the entire event.
EJ: How can educators help support DACA students and a new DREAM Act?
LD: The current situation has stirred up a whirlwind of emotions for DACA students, so the broad swath of support—from the public, educators, and university administrators—is very welcome. It’s heartening to see there’s support for a clean Dream Act that doesn’t criminalize or demonize other immigrants. Here’s what supporters can do:
- Be clear about the new rules now that DACA is rescinded. Rumors have been flying. Make sure you’re providing accurate information to students and any employers you have a relationship with in the community.
- Data sharing is a major concern for students. Make sure schools are protecting students’ privacy while being transparent and clear about their policies if ICE comes on campus.
- Provide a support network for students by making yourself available and creating a culture of openness on campus.
- Contact your congressional representative to make sure they’re supporting a Dream Act without an enforcement arm, funding for a border wall, and additional detention centers.
- If you don’t have an immigrant student task force on campus, consider starting one. It may be the only safety net your students have.