Fullerton College faculty, students and representatives of other institutions gathered for the first AB540 conference Friday, March 11, in hopes of learning about the challenges and resiliency that characterize undocumented students in their pursuit for higher education.
The conference organized by professor, Sylvia Pimentel, was one of many support services offered under the Grads2Be program to raise awareness for the undocumented student population.
Keynote speaker, Elizabeth Hernandez, detailed her goals as a psychologist and counselor to better serve the increasing body of undocumented families.
“Like my elders, I hope to draw from the educational and professional opportunities afforded by my privilege as a U.S. citizen to promote resilience within vulnerable populations,” Hernandez said.
While she was fortunate enough to work in a school where her colleague helped develop the first AB540 guide for high school students back in 2007, the program mainly discussed legal resources and scholarship programs. Meanwhile, mental health resources and emotional turmoil linked to the undocumented status were left unanswered.
“I meet student after student, each with a wide range of mental help needs, who constantly push the boundaries of the existing mental help treatments,” Hernandez said, noting that some were able to work legally and drive, while others still coped with the unending stigma surrounding their status.
In the midst of her clinical internship at UCLA, Hernandez’s proposal to start a support group in the UCLA counseling center for undocumented students was recently accepted. The proposal will be implemented in April.
“I approach all these efforts from a very personal place,” Hernandez said. “As a working-class Latina, I have only lived experiences from which to draw from.”
After her speech, students and faculty had the opportunity to attend individual workshops and resource tables, hosted by on-campus faculty and representatives outside of FC.
Coordinator, Henoc Preciado, from the “Cal State Fullerton Dream Center” workshop said that he wanted to speak briefly about the center as well as its history. Most importantly, he wanted his student speakers to share their personal experiences about their transition onto Cal State Fullerton and being dreamers on campus.
“The reason why I chose CSUF is because it had a resource center,” Ana Parra, one of the speakers, said. “It was hard to come into terms of being different, which led to closing a lot of doors for me. I realized that the resource center was a safe space where we could discuss the struggles and get to know your community.”
Over at the workshop titled “Myths and Facts of DACA/AB2000”, Dr. Julian Jefferies discussed different criteria for several laws pertaining to the undocumented youth in order to be eligible for financial aid, employment and status protection.
He also discussed some myths surrounding the undocumented community, including faculty.
“One of the biggest myths is that students can’t go to college. We still have counselors who don’t know this information. Another myth is that all undocumented students are Latinos,” Jefferies said, noting that clarifying misinformation was vital in serving undocumented individuals.
FC students reflected on their experiences attending the workshops and gaining valuable information that they could apply to their own educational career.
Psychology major, Flor Bustamante, said, “It was encouraging to know that a lot of other students were in my exact situation. The workshops were amazing and very informative. I still have more questions, but I feel that they will connect me to places I need to go.”
In terms of the student and faculty turnout, Grads2Be mentor Lizbeth Trujillo said, “It was a great turnout, although there were a couple of no-shows and some people who had heard about the event last minute.”
The second keynote speaker, Janette L. Hyder, wrapped up the conference with an empowering speech and left the audience ignited for the possibility of a better reality for undocumented students.
“Hearing the students’ stories full of hopelessness, experiencing the pain, depression, the concern for their mental health, and the tears we have shed together have been eye-opening and inspiring because of their courage, but also gut-wrenching at the same time,” Hyder said.
Hyder and her colleagues often had to be the voice for their students when they lacked one.
She said, “We have reminded our students that they are our true inspiration, and they have a right to an education.”