Student Activism Leads to Undocumented Scholarship

To the Editors:

On Monday, Sept. 28, 2015, Oberlin announced a new partnership with Golden Door Scholars. Golden Door Scholars is an organization that partners with undergraduate schools to provide scholarships for students eligible for Deferred Action Childhood Arrival. It connects with schools in the 32 states, including Ohio, that do not allow DACA students to receive instate tuition. These scholarships help DACA students overcome financial barriers to higher education, as all undocumented students (in every state and regardless of DACA status) are not eligible for federal financial aid.

However, many undocumented students are not DACA-eligible. The $465 application fee is one of many factors that make DACA status difficult to receive. We commend Oberlin College for accepting this partnership, but need to recognize that this scholarship is accessible to only a limited group of undocumented students. We would also like to clarify that GDS reached out to Oberlin College. Though in February of 2014, the College began to consider undocumented students as domestic applicants, this partnership with GDS was not the result of the administration’s initiative.

A brief history of Oberlin student activism around undocumented students’ rights and access to higher education is necessary to understand the GDS partnership. This can be traced back to 2009 with the onset of Oberlin’s DREAM Act Week (now Immigration Action Now! Week). Every year, IAN Week organizes events addressing issues of im/migration. In the fall of 2012, members of the IAN Committee collected 607 signatures calling Oberlin College President Marvin Krislov to publicly endorse the national DREAM Act. He never released a statement.

At the Oct. 10, 2013 Board of Trustees forum, a coalition of students consisting of members of Asian American Alliance, La Alianza Latinx, Students for a Free Palestine, Student Labor Action Coalition, Anti-Frack and many others organized over 100 students and took over the meeting to demonstrate support for student demands. This included a letter calling for Oberlin College to institutionalize support for undocumented students. Students proposed several financial plans for a scholarship program similar to Posse, Bonner and Questbridge. While some follow-up meetings occurred with the admissions, financial aid and development offices, a concrete plan was not created for a scholarship program or fund. Instead, the responsibility and labor was placed on student organizers.

On Feb. 26, 2014, Oberlin College’s General Faculty Committee on Admissions and Financial Aid passed an admissions policy allowing undocumented student applicants to be considered domestic candidates instead of international. Few U.S. colleges and universities have this policy, and Oberlin followed the footsteps of schools like Pomona College. The announcement on Oberlin’s website attributed this action to “support from the senior staff and the Board of Trustees” which “led members of the admissions staff and the General Faculty Committee on Admissions and Financial Aid to begin working to codify Oberlin’s policy.”

We want to be very clear: this policy reform happened because of student activism, specifically from Ana Robelo, OC ’15, Joelle Lingat, OC ’14, and other students, because of the 607 signatures collected by students in support of the DREAM Act in 2012 and because of direct action and demands to the Board of Trustees. Similarly, the new partnership with GDS is the result of the efforts of students of color, immigrant students, low-income students, undocumented students and the IAN 2015 events that brought representatives from the Undocumented Students Project at Northeastern Illinois University to meet with Oberlin administrators and students.

There are several concerns regarding scholarship implementation. First, Oberlin cannot bring in undocumented students, who are often low-income due to job inaccessibility, without providing sufficient financial aid beyond explicit tuition costs. Additionally, Oberlin must take steps to provide a supportive atmosphere. This support should account for the fact that students should not have to disclose their immigration status in order to obtain assistance, that undocumented students are often first generation and that Oberlin needs to be prepared to help students when a non-financial problem arises. For example, if a student’s family member is deported, will Oberlin step in to make sure that the student stays in school or provide legal support? GDS provides scholarship, mentorship and professional development for students, but where will students access this support on Oberlin’s campus? Are there trained staff to provide the necessary help? Will all faculty be aware of the challenges that undocumented students face?

We are glad that Oberlin has taken the first step toward institutionalizing support for undocumented students, and grateful for the leadership of students who have come before us. We request that the administration announce a plan for the GDS partnership implementation which outlines how they will support undocumented students financially, legally and otherwise. We also request continued action to support undocumented students who are not eligible for GDS.

Obies for Undocumented Inclusion

Zury Gutierrez-Avila

College sophomore and OUI co-chair

Ellie Lindberg

College sophomore and OUI co-chair

Della Kurzer-Zlotnick

College sophomore and OUI co-chair