Yvette Borja challenges New Haven to strengthen supports for undocumented college students

The following is an article written by Yvette Borja, a Yale University student and Dwight Hall Urban Fellow for Promise during the spring of 2013. A version of this story written in spanish is available at La Voz. Miss Borja is a frequent contributor to The Huffington Post. The opinions reflected in this article are Miss Borja’s.

Think about it. He was the kid who used to help us with Chemistry and Calculus. What a waste. He had more talent than us,” Jordy Padilla-Solis lamented.

Yvette Borja

Yvette Borja

As Jordy, a graduate of Wilbur Cross High School and now a student at the University of New Haven, reflected on the challenges he faced during his college application process, he expressed the highest level of disappointment at having to witness a bright, motivated friend disengage from the school system early on because of his undocumented status. Jordy himself was undocumented as well, but he decided to continue forward in the college application process, optimistically attempting to ignore the fact that any form of financial aid for this endeavor was largely uncertain.

Fortunately, Jordy eventually realized his eligibility for the New Haven Promise scholarship: a fund that covers tuition for New Haven public school students who are residents of the Elm City and will be attending institutions of higher education in Connecticut. Jordy’s astounding resilience and unnervingly high levels of optimism, however, should not be the necessary default for the success of every undocumented student. The resources available to the undocumented community need to be better communicated in order to ensure their successful entry into higher education.

The way in which the United States is currently approaching the undocumented student question makes little common sense. Though undocumented students have the legal right to attend a K-12 public school, these same students, whose education the government has already invested in, and who have themselves also invested their own energies, are halted in harnessing their fullest potential by senseless barriers such as financial ineligibility for loans and grants. This is both a moral and economic issue. In order to get our fullest returns on the tax money invested into the education system, the barriers these students face need to be eliminated.

The majority of undocumented students are not as lucky as Jordy; indeed, they are underserved in the college application and college-going process because of the lack of specialized counseling that they are given. The loss of motivation that Jordy’s classmate felt is hardly a singular story of one individual’s lack of ability; it is, in fact, a noted phenomenon amongst immigration researchers sparked by the actions of educators. Carola Suarez-Orozco and Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, two prominent experts in immigrant psychology, have published reports that cite a frightening rate of 3% of immigrant students aged 9-14 who felt they had a teacher who was proud of them. Statistics such as these should inform teacher preparation programs in order to produce a workforce that most effectively responds to the specific needs of students.

Educators, particularly guidance counselors, need to be more vigilant about tailoring their support to satisfy this population’s needs. Whether this means providing students with a master list of  “undocumented friendly” institutions of higher education, or simply letting them know that college is most certainly an option for their future, this work needs to be done in order to insure that the investment already made in these students comes to full fruition. Guidance counselors should be trained with programs focused specifically on cultural competence and sensitivity to the issues of various communities.

If the city of New Haven is truly dedicated to bettering the school system to be an equalizing vehicle, then we need to better serve the undocumented population and allow for their untapped talent to flourish.

One thought on “Yvette Borja challenges New Haven to strengthen supports for undocumented college students

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