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Undocumented students acknowledged by California community colleges

Daily webinars and conferences from Oct. 19 to 23 offered resources for undocumented students across the state.

By Cassandra Nava, News Editor

All 116 California community colleges celebrated Undocumented Student Action Week, with an emphasis on sharing resources and opportunities to help further their educational and career goals.

The action week started four years ago in order to enforce the idea that the state’s community colleges are a welcoming place for students — regardless of their immigration status. Throughout the week, webinars were available for students and faculty, offering a broad selection of topics such as transferring to universities, building communities and even a virtual dance party. In the state, community colleges represent the largest undocumented student population, according to the Community College League of California. More specifically, the Los Angeles Community College District serves more undocumented students than CSU’s and UC’s combined, according to LACCD Board of Trustee member Gabriel Buelna.

“We have the second largest [undocumented student] population in the district,” said Valley College President Barry Gribbons. “The other community college with a higher population is East LA College, and they’re only a little bit bigger. So we have a really strong population of students that are undocumented.”

Highlighting the importance of building community was the focus of Tuesday’s webinar called “Undocu-Leadership Opportunities: Setting Yourself up for Success by Building Community and Professional Skills.” Moderator Enrique Chiabra, a Noticiero Telemundo news anchor, interviewed three student panelists on what they gained from joining organizations in their community colleges.

“I made connections with undocumented students,” said Daniela, a student panelist from College of the Desert. “We had the opportunity to share our perspectives, make friends and help each other. I gained so much knowledge and skills, and it was a place where I could feel safe.”

At Valley, clubs like Puente and Rising Monarchs offer students a safe space to continue in their studies with others who may share their same immigration status. The Puente Club, which is part of the Puente program, aims to help Latinx students with an encouraging learning environment and a personal counselor who will inform them on how to take their next steps in higher education.

Former Valley student Gemma Jimenez Gonzalez was a student panelist at Wednesday’s webinar, “What’s Next After Community College? Transferring & Workforce Opportunities.” Gonzalez started her education at Valley, and through the support she received from the college she was able to transfer to CSUN, where she is now finishing her final year.

“The Dream [Resource] Center had a club that focused on undocumented students and that was a really great place to come together,” said Gonzalez. “Creating all these networks and coming together for support was really great for advocating for ourselves. There were many instances where a lot of folks advocated [for undocumented students] in meetings with the board members of community colleges, telling them what the students want and what we need.”

The Dream Resource Center at Valley offers undocumented students academic and financial support, free legal aid and resources for basic needs. Counselors are available for online and remote services, and can offer insight into legislation and policies such as AB540, CA Dream Act and DACA.

In order to raise funds for the center, the LAVC Foundation celebrated Undocumented Students Action Week with a virtual fundraiser. Speakers featured in the event were community members such as the U.S. Rep. Tony Cardenas, talk show host Jose Luis Gonzalez, LACCD Chancellor Francisco Rodriguez, Gribbons and Valley student Devora Augstin.

Each ticket to attend the event was $30, and those in attendance were asked to donate as well. The Foundation stated that the funds given to the DRC will cover students’ DACA renewal fee, which costs $495 every other year.

On Friday, at the final panel of the week, it was revealed by Buelna that the $10,000 goal of the event was surpassed by upwards of $4,000.

“This is not just a week of action, this is a week where we are highlighting the action,” said California Community College Chancellor Eloy Oakley in Friday’s panel. “This action has to happen 365 days a year. Every opportunity that we get, in every conversation that we have, in every moment we have in front of a legislator, leader or influencer, we need to continue to push.”

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