This article was co-authored by Shelly Le.
On Nov. 17, the Board of Trustees unanimously voted to approve a statement in support of undocumented students. The statement went up on Whitman’s website earlier today, Nov. 29.
The statement reads: “Whitman College seeks to establish a vibrant community of individuals who are intellectually talented, have the potential to be leaders in and out of the classroom and are from diverse backgrounds both nationally and internationally. Recognizing that undocumented students make important contributions to the intellectual and social life of the campus, Whitman College admits and enrolls students regardless of citizenship. Whitman College uses non-governmental resources to support the academic efforts of such students who qualify for financial aid.”
Whitman is the first liberal arts school in the nation to show this kind of public support for undocumented students.
The proposal for a statement was brought to ASWC by Alumnus Ariel Ruiz ’10 in November 2010 after ASWC formally endorsed the DREAM Act, a congressional bill that would grant legal permanent residency for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.
Ruiz gave a presentation to the Trustees during their meeting in February 2011 asking for their support.
The presentation consisted of a panel of undocumented students who attended Whitman at the time, explaining their experiences. The panel emphasized that undocumented students and their contributions are integral to the Whitman community and its identity.
“It was about trying to get students to interact with the Trustees so that the Trustees could see the faces of the people we were talking about,” Ruiz said. “I really wanted to ensure that people encompass that this problem has a face.”
The students’ presence before the committee drove the issue home.
“It became very clear to us in the room, the contributions that these students make to the campus, and the fact that in many ways are a very hidden population. The committee clearly wanted to acknowledge those contributions and affirm their support for these students,” Cleveland said.
According to Larry Stone, chair of the Diversity Committee of the Board of Trustees, the panel proved to be decisive in encouraging the committee to support the statement proposal.
“The students who came were incredibly moving to the committee and I think the experience is one that needs to be brought to the American people over the next few years because I think very few members of the public have any idea of the situation of undocumented youth,” Stone said.
Though Whitman has enrolled and provided some financial aid for undocumented students for several years, administrators felt that putting such a statement in writing is extremely important.
Ruiz points out that though the statement is beneficial for the college as a whole, it is also hugely valuable for undocumented students considering applying to institutions of higher education.
“Future undocumented students that will come to Whitman will feel more at home knowing that we have seriously discussed the issue on undocumented status,” he said.
Stone believes that the statement is especially timely because he predicts issues facing undocumented students will be a hot discussion topic in the near future.
“I’m confident that over the next five years many other institutions will follow Whitman’s lead. I believe we will change nationwide as a result of this,” he said.