A call to action

Dec. 19, 2013 @ 03:45 PM

Open your eyes to the diverse community around you. Think about the students who have grown up with you. Listen to those who have studied beside you. According to Educators for Fair Consideration, a non-partisan and non-profit organization, 65,000 undocumented youth are calling for help each year. Their dreams are being crushed.

Undocumented students need in-state tuition and financial aid to go to college and Duke can make a difference.

Imagine yourself, as you are today, an American who knows no other home than this country. Yet when all of those around you are applying to college, you face the reality of being undocumented; a nine-digit number is holding your future hostage.

Most of us have never lived below the poverty line. We’ve never experienced the pressure of hiding our identity, drudging through our studies and simultaneously working a job to support our families. We’ve never been terrified by the legal consequences of making a wrong turn while driving or lived in fear of deportation risking the involuntary separation of our family.

As Duke students, our acceptance into this university was our reward for the hard work we put in throughout secondary school. Having access to higher education was never a question, it is a right that many times we take for granted. It is a right that undocumented students, too, deserve.

“What I really would like to see happen is for people not to label us by numbers but instead look into our value as human beings and get to know the more humane, personal part…I want to open eyes to people who are oblivious to our situation, says Marco, an undocumented Duke guest student. 

As reported by Slate magazine, our state has an estimated undocumented population of 3.5 percent, one of the highest in the United States, yet these youth are required to pay out-of-state tuition. In-state tuition can only be granted to them if the General Assembly makes a change in state law.

Even though universities do not have the authority to change state law, Duke can still remove the obstacles it imposes on undocumented applicants. According to Duke’s dean of undergraduate admissions, Christoph Guttentag, undocumented students are treated like international students -- their applications are “need-aware” rather than “need-blind”. Because Duke has to use its own funds rather than government funds to support them, the admission’s rate of undocumented students and other non-US citizens is a marginal 3.5 percent, as mentioned by Duke’s independent newspaper, The Chronicle, in 2010. Thus, few affordable opportunities exist for them to take classes at Duke. Their only hope is as semester guest students through the Two-Way Bridges program in Duke’s Humanities Writ Large initiative. This is not enough. Duke needs to and can make more of a difference.

Sandro, an undocumented Duke guest student, cannot apply to our university without his application being “need-aware.” He describes how his economic situation bars him from being able to pursue an education he has earned through hard work. “Every [undocumented student] who wants to get a higher education would love to go to college. But the money is the obstacle. Some have the money go to college, but most of us have to work to help our family and help ourselves.”

How can Duke make a difference?

Duke can fund internships and provide more merit-based scholarships that provide direct financial aid to undocumented students. In addition, President Ricahrd Brodhead has the power to voice his opinion on tuition equity. By speaking with our legislature and the UNC board of governors and showing his support for undocumented youth (if that is his stance), Brodhead could influence thousands of lives.

How can Duke Students make a difference?

I encourage Duke students to create advocacy organizations that endorse The Dream Act and in-state tuition and state-based financial aid in North Carolina. We have the opportunity to support community-based service organizations that help undocumented students such as NC Dream Team. In addition, we can sign the NC Petition for in-state tuition. Students can call Attorney General Roy Cooper and UNC Board Of Governors, Chairman Peter Hans and urge them to voice their opinions on in-state tuition and state-based financial aid for undocumented students. We also have the ability to write to our legislatures and explain why this change in our state-law is necessary. Lastly, we can write to our senators pressing them to co-sponsor the Dream Act.

We need to take the future into our own hands and fight against this injustice; “to remain silent on this matter is to deny these students equal access to education and to stand on the wrong side of history!” -- NC Dream Team.

Duke cannot continue to hinder students from obtaining its education because of their identities and backgrounds. We need to stop stigmatizing undocumented students and listen to their plea for help. We must take action and fight for in-state tuition and financial aid for undocumented students.

Isabella Szabolcs is a senior at Duke University.