Undocumented students statement proposal to go before the Board of Trustees

Shelly Le

Undocumented students who pursue a secondary education run into a number of obstacles that may hinder their educational goals. Whitman currently accepts applications from all students, regardless of citizenship status, and will often offer private financial aid to undocumented students who otherwise are not eligible to receive federal financial aid. This practice is not generally known among undocumented students when applying to college.

The Undocumented Students Statement proposal will be brought in front of the Board of Trustees on Thursday, Nov. 17, and may soon make this practice more visible.

If the proposal passes, starting in 2012, all newly printed college catalogs will include a statement in support of undocumented students on campus. It will also make Whitman the first liberal arts college and the second institution in the United States to include such a statement in its college catalog.

“It’ll be the first time a liberal arts school will voice its support for undocumented students in such a concrete way,” senior ASWC President Matt Dittrich said. “That’s an incredible stand to take right now.”

The Undocumented Students Statement will include the administration’s willingness to admit and provide private financial aid to undocumented students who apply to Whitman.

“This is one of the most important things that we can pass for our student body during this time,” Dittrich said. “The investment from Whitman College can drastically change anyone’s life, but the impact that it can have for someone who’s undocumented is incredible, and you can’t put a value on that.”

The proposal comes after last year’s ASWC DREAM Act Resolution, which states that, as a governing body, ASWC supports the DREAM ACT, a congressional bill that would grant legal permanent residency for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.

Alumnus Ariel Ruiz ’11, who co-wrote the ASWC DREAM Act Resolution, believes that passing the statement will allow Whitman to show others that the college is ready to openly talk about undocumented status and sees undocumented students as important to the campus.

“It will set a standard for Whitman to show the community that we can take a public stance on an educational issue for the safety of our students,” Ruiz said. “It shows to ourselves that this is an issue we need to talk about.”

Ruiz further stressed that passing the statement goes beyond simply accepting undocumented students on campus and would help Whitman progress into a more open and transparent campus.

“This movement is not just about undocumented students,” Ruiz said. “It’s about how we establish ourselves and how we foster a safe and progressive environment that allows all of our students, including undocumented students, to achieve academically.

Dittrich noted that acknowledging students with an undocumented status is crucial to expanding diversity on campus.

“I think that exchanging different perspectives is a critical component of a liberal arts education. So, by its very nature, I would argue that an institution like Whitman College supports and promotes diversity of thought,” Dittrich said.

Although the Admissions Office does not take into account students’ documentation status and makes undocumented students eligible for private financial aid, the college does not publicly explain this. ¬† Consequently, many undocumented students often choose not to apply to Whitman.

“All students face challenges when they’re applying to colleges and jobs, and undocumented students face particular barriers inherent to their immigration status. Many fear being deported and don’t think they can apply for college at all,” said senior Katie DeCramer.

“This statement is an articulation of what we already do but don’t publicly acknowledge,” said senior ASWC Senator Daria Reaven

DeCramer and Reaven are a part of a group of students who have collected video testimonials from various clubs, faculty and students in support of passing the statement.

“The board is at a crossroads in choosing between publicly affirming our current practices that support the fair and equal admission of students regardless of their documentation status and turning our back on these students who are our classmates, our teammates and our friends,” DeCramer said.

The statement is particularly crucial to students who are applying to colleges but don’t necessarily know Whitman’s policy of accepting students regardless of whether they are legal U.S. citizens or not.

“This statement makes a big difference because then [undocumented students] know that they can go to Whitman, that they’re supported and that they can receive financial aid,” Ruiz said.

The Whitman constitution states that the college cannot take a political statement because it would detract from its mission. ¬†Despite this, senior Adam Delgado, student representative to the Diversity Committee of the Board of Trustees, stressed that the statement is not a political stance by the college but rather an articulation of the administration’s support of students’ pursuits of higher education regardless of their citizenship status.

“It’s important to note that this is a recognition that Whitman welcomes students from all citizenship backgrounds and that Whitman doesn’t discriminate or impede the development of undocumented students on campus,” Delgado said. “A statement supporting undocumented students directly from the Board recognizes that support of these students comes from all levels.”

Ruiz hopes that the statement will allow undocumented students themselves to be more comfortable talking about their citizenship status.

“Over the course of time that I’ve been here, I’ve met a number of undocumented students who feel invisible. Who sort of feel that, although they’re accepted, they can’t really talk about [being an undocumented student],” he said. “I don’t think that’s right, I don’t think undocumented status is something that we should be quiet about.”

For a closer look at the experiences of Whitman’s undocumented students visit www.whitmanpioneer.com/news/2011/02/24/undocumented-whitman-students-face-difficulties-paying-for-college/