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Sunday, March 3, 2024

The AB540 and Undocumented Student Center embraces change in order to remain an inclusive space

The center reflects on their goals as they continue to create a safe space for undocumented students

 

By JULIANA MARQUEZ ARAUJO — features@theaggie.org

 

In an education system that predominantly lacks awareness and resources for undocumented students, the AB540 and Undocumented Student Center at UC Davis strives to create equity within their community while informing students of their power.

The center is home to a large group of professionals and staff who wish to fulfill the inquiries of students as they navigate higher education and turn to them for help, providing a space that not many were fortunate to grow up with.

Laura Bohorquez Garcia, the director of the center, has experienced firsthand the hardships of being a part of the undocumented population and has since learned the importance of building resources for undocumented students and educators.

“We want to be able to create that space for folks who are brave enough to challenge us or challenge their professors and create this beautiful mission,” Bohorquez Garcia said.

She commented that the center has held its name since 2014, making next year its 10-year anniversary. The community is excited to celebrate how far the center has come. However, she is aware that progression is important.

“A lot has changed since that time,” Bohorquez Garcia said. “Ultimately we want the center to still continue to be a space for not just resources but for community because a lot of times, while we are bringing access to resources like scholarships and programming, at the end of the day, folks really want community.”

The AB540 and Undocumented Center continues to grow with its time at this school, and this growth hones a question for those in charge of establishing the center for what it is. Does the name and bases of what this foundation once stood for still represent the image we want to express today? When Bohorquez Garcia came to this conversation with her students, she found that the answer was no, not exactly.

“The students wanted to make sure that the way [they] saw the center moving forward, was still resonating with them on how to find us as a resource,” Bohorquez Garcia said. “But also how to find themselves being seen as a part of the identity of the center.”

The center was introduced to change nearly two years ago when the committee decided that a new logo was better fit for their vision as it “embodies [their] community at large,” as said in their Instagram post revealing the new logo. Since then, they have asked new students and revisiting ones to kindly fill out a Google form, informing staff members what name they think would be more fitting for the center’s goals. Bohorquez Garcia mentioned that with this support from voters and alumni, they have been able to decide on a name, which will be introduced to the public very soon.

She explained that in order to settle on a new name, they had to acknowledge that students preferred to associate themselves more with community and did not solely want to be connected to policy or law.

“AB540 just no longer encompassed who was coming to the center or how people identified,” Bohorquez Garcia said. “Folks are not necessarily saying ‘I am an AB540 student’, they most likely are going to say ‘I am an undocumented student’ or ‘immigrant student’ or ‘I am just a student.’”

Many undocumented students have lacked this sense of acceptance and understanding in other settings. Oftentimes, they find themselves shocked by the amount of support provided at UC Davis.

Daniel Barrientos Garcia, a first-year transfer chemistry major, shared his experience with this new atmosphere.

“For me, it’s amazing to have a place like this,” Barrientos Garcia said. “When I was transferring from my community college, one of the reasons why I chose Davis was because of its strong undocumented community that this center creates.”

He discussed that while most undocumented students understand their political situation and relate to one another in that sense, it should not be the sole thing to define them.

“We have different personalities, different interests and we don’t let the phrase undocumented define us or put us into a cookie cutter personality,” Barrientos Garcia said.

A large category of school counselors and advisors nationwide are unaware of how to help undocumented students. More commonly, these students turn their attention to search engines such as Google to help them discover information about possible opportunities or cultural connections, which most times leads to disappointment and a disheartening glimpse of reality.

“In high school, there was no undocumented representation and often, some of the counselors or teachers didn’t know what undocumented was or how to help people with my situation,” Barrientos Garcia said. “Undocumented is something you hear on the news and often in a bad light, this leads to people being misinformed.”

The AB540 and Undocumented Student Center combats this misinformation as it works to not only build a sense of belonging in their students, but also “educate and build awareness of changing policies affecting California’s undocumented population,” as said on their website’s mission statement. Bohorquez Garcia understands that in a few years, they may have to make more changes to the center, depending on what students need and how the country progresses.

In the meantime, this program acts as a resource like no other, providing scholarship opportunities, mental wellness events, diverse job listings, a community pantry and even life-changing help through legal counsel.

In past recent weeks, the center has been gifted $25,000 from the Women and Philanthropy Impact Award winner, Colleen Bronner, who said, “I have had the privilege of working with several students who are either undocumented or have AB540 status, and they always inspire and amaze me with their grace and perseverance.”

While the center shares their enthusiasm for receiving this opportunity, Bohorquez Garcia said that they have to consider three main topics before taking action: “Is it an opportunity for scholarships and grants for students? Or two, is it an opportunity to implement a new program that can be a pilot program? Or three, can it reinforce an already existing program?”

Regardless of how the center decides to make use of these new funds, it is surely in for some astounding developments as the program grows and impacts the undocumented population in inspiring ways.

 

Written by: Juliana Marquez Araujo — features@theaggie.org

 

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