When I hung a flyer announcing the National Coming Out of the Shadows (NCOS) rallies happening across Illinois with the new collective – Undocumented Illinois – I did not expect a blatantly discriminatory reaction to arise.
For the last three years, I have been a student at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), and in that time, I have never felt such a direct attack against students lacking an immigration status as I did after what resulted from me posting those flyers.
Response poster created around vandalized flyer. The red-inked derogatory statement displayed on a flyer I posted at the Latino Cultural Center at UIC stung with the reminder that discrimination and xenophobic sentiments continue, and campuses are not exempt.
Ironically, NCOS is a time for undocumented people to come out in order to denounce their fears as undocumented immigrants, to break away from stigmatization, and a means to place human value in the midst of political rhetoric. A vandalized flyer is a crude reminder for people wondering why coming out as undocumented and unafraid is still valuable.
It also speaks to the larger discriminatory practices experienced through the insatiable deportation quota that seeks to deport 400,000 individuals a year or 11,000 people a day.
Though discrimination at a university campus does not typically translate into the deportation of students, it certainly materializes in other harmful ways. Taking away the rights for undocumented students to access scholarships, refusing or delaying to take stances that support undocumented students, and neglecting to address the stressors that students have due to their immigration status are just some ways in which the university embodies discrimination.
Undocumented students, like documented students, contribute to the university’s environment, research, development, and financial pool. And despite those important contributions, these students are seeing the way in which their university systematically turns its back on them.
In a response to the hate rhetoric displayed on the NCOS flyer, three other undocumented UIC students and I lead a discussion on March 7 and invited students, staff, administration, alumni, and allies to examine discrepancies on campus and brainstorm on ways to better our university.
As a means of communicating the event’s dialogue to the administration, we invited the chancellor to partake in our discussion. While the chancellor told us that she would not be able to make it, she committed to sending two representatives on her behalf.
The chancellor’s commitment to send staff from the Office of Access and Equity is a step in the right direction, but her lack of further response to the incident is disconcerting. Moreover, the timeline to respond to the incident that she stated as, “in the next coming months,” is indicative of the low ranking priority there is to create an inclusive and safe campus environment for all UIC students.
Through the discussion, UIC community members were able to express concerns, suggestions, and questions. However, staff from the Office of Access and Equity later explained that there was a lack of awareness in regards to student and staff opinions. Twenty-two days after the incident, the chancellor finally sent out a mass email commenting on the inappropriateness of the incident, as it affects the values of diversity on campus. However, there is more that needs to happen if the university is to take serious strides toward supporting its undocumented students.
Foremost, university administration should not make it a taboo topic to discuss the needs of undocumented students. Immigration laws are complicated and undocumented students have to deal with the uncertainty of immigration laws all the time, but that does not mean that issues pertaining to undocumented people need to be swept under the rug. University staff members, including counselors and psychologists, also need to have trainings that provide them with the resources and knowledge that undocumented students need as they go through their university careers.
Resources such as merit-based scholarships are essential to making the university accessible. That means that the recent cutting of scholarships for undocumented students many times entails losing such students, which is why there is urgency in finding ways to keep providing financial support. Yes, that may even mean taking a stance against anti-immigrant laws that do not recognize the contributions undocumented students give as students and taxpayers.
The University of Illinois has previously stated their support for undocumented students, but it is time that a campus like UIC go further by making meaningful efforts to truly support the entire student body and the well-being of its campus.
This post was written by Yaxal Sobrevilla, an organizer with the Immigrant Youth Justice League and a student at the University of Illinois at Chicago.