MRC Event Highlights Undocumented Student Activism
Issue   |   Tue, 10/24/2017 - 20:11

The Multicultural Resource Center hosted a panel and discussion on undocumented student activism and the right to education in conjunction with Freedom University on Oct. 13. According to its website, Freedom University is a Georgia-based school that “provides tuition-free education, college application and scholarship assistance and social movement leadership training to undocumented students banned from public higher education in Georgia.”

Freedom Univeristy Executive Director Emiko Soltis began with a presentation on Freedom University and its support for undocumented student activism. Next, a panel of Freedom University students shared their own experiences as undocumented students in the South. The event ended with a Q&A session.

Soltis began her presentation by explaining the implications of being an undocumented student in the United States and the ability and right of those students to access higher education.

“Out of the 2.1 million undocumented young people, only about 10,000 are in college,” Soltis said. “And if you do your math, that’s less than 1 percent of the undocumented student population is in college, which is one of the lowest matriculation rates of any social group.” This, Soltis said, is “a very severe, deep problem in terms of access.”

Since 1982, the United States has had a law ensuring all young people have free access to K-12 education regardless of race, religion, ethnicity or citizenship status. However, this legislation does not apply to higher education, where such rights to education access are determined by individual states and private universities instead.

“Mostly, blue states have welcoming policies and in-state tuition and more red states do not,” Soltis said. “About 21 states allow undocumented students to qualify for in-state tuition rates … Unfortunately, there’s three states that actually have an admissions ban” ­— Georgia included.

Assumptions that people have made about undocumented students were “meant to criminalize and demonize young people as people who take things away from others,” said Soltis.

Freedom University was founded seven years ago on the assumption that restrictive policies on higher education access would be short-lived and to meet the need to “have a space where undocumented students could continue their education despite the ban [on higher education],” Soltis said. The organization provides college-level classes and application assistance for students.

“Our theory of social change is that education can be resistance,” Soltis said. “Education can be liberatory … both consciousness and commitment together equals change.” In the past, Freedom University students have been engaged in actions intended to bring about social change, including mobilizing for sanctuary campuses at universities, protesting the Georgia Board of Regents when fighting for access to public universities, advocating for changing admission policies to diversify private universities and engaging in federal lawsuits.

Alejandro Nino ’18, who attended the event, said it was inspiring to see the “resiliency and creativity that the students shared in their own experiences,” particularly in how they made lives for themselves in America despite setbacks.

He found Soltis’ talk engaging in the ways she drew parallels to segregation in education.

“[Soltis] reminded people of how this right to education is being taken away from people within this country very explicitly,” he said. “I really appreciate what Freedom U does and really hope to look at it as a model of … what engagement and activism on a campus can look like and in a community.”