By Gabriela Flores
In celebration of CUNY’s undocumented and immigrant students, John Jay hosted a university-wide event alongside Brooklyn College’s Immigrant Student Success Office (ISSO) to promote resources for all students and a space for them to speak on their experiences as non-citizens. With nearly 200 participants in attendance, last Saturday allowed students and administrators to vocalize the progress made for those undocumented across CUNY colleges and the actions that must follow for further change.
Across the university’s 25 campuses, there are only two Immigrant Student Success Offices available – one at Brooklyn College and another at John Jay. Each college, however, has a designated liaison for immigrant student resources.
“Every time I come to one of these events, I go home, and I feel like I can’t close my eyes because I’m just shining this energy that you guys bring,” said ISSO Director Jesús Pérez during the event while he thanked the afternoon’s speakers and organizers.
During the celebration, participants tuned into the remarks of the CUNY Chancellor and other university administrators who’ve worked on expanding the services available for undocumented and immigrant students. Most recently, the university appointed a new interim director for Immigrant Student Success, Dr. Cynthia Carvajal, who has already hit the ground running in ensuring that immigrant and undocumented students are given the ample resources they need to get by their respective college careers.
“CUNY is proudly expanding efforts to ensure that all immigrant students are getting the resources they need to overcome the barriers they unfortunately face when pursuing a college education,” said Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez, according to a press release. “We have been consistently inspired by the determination and drive of these students, and they are more than deserving of celebration. As I have said, CUNY has a simple message for immigrant New Yorkers: We know and treasure your incredible talent and persistence. We have your back.”
Besides students and administrators, family members, immigrant supporters, and city officials joined the celebration, including Manuel Castro, a Commissioner of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs who is a CUNY alum himself.
“The road here wasn’t easy, but now I can stand here and say to you that because of my friends, my colleagues, the community around me, I am now the first formerly undocumented, Dreamer Commissioner of the City of New York,” Castro said during his speech.
A panel of five undocumented and immigrant students also took the floor to share their own experiences navigating through CUNY. Among the topics discussed included the difference in resources that different campuses offered for students – with some providing aid more than others. For most panelists, expanding consistent support of immigrant and undocumented students at CUNY could enable an improvement.
“[…] I feel that CUNY to me is something that represents equality in terms of resources and diversity, and I don’t think it’s fair for just me to have the resources, but then one of my classmates at Queens College doesn’t have it because of the lack of consistency between campuses in student support systems,” said Mahir Sadad, a Macaulay Honors student at Queens College, who emphasized the importance of readily accessible help for immigrant and undocumented students.
As Saturday’s discussions closed, participants ate food and played games with one another. For many of the students who attended, the event and its space for such conversations were important for the inclusivity of those living the undocumented and immigrant experience.
“I loved the energy here,” BC student Darla Moshe told The Vanguard. “[…] You feel safe because all of us are in the same status – so you can freely talk without worrying or anything. Everybody here understands.”