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NYU crash course in undocumented student education crosses the bridge into RU

In one of the auxiliary rooms adjacent to the College Avenue Student Center, students watched an informational video that followed two undocumented students at New York University. – Photo by Photo by Abner Bonilla | The Daily Targum

DREAM Zone is an interactive training program that teaches students, faculty and staff at New York University (NYU) how to support the undocumented community. On Wednesday, the program came to the College Avenue campus for the first time.    

Ariana Mangual Figueroa, an associate professor in the Graduate School of Education, and Viviana Siles-Osejo, a second-year student in the Graduate School of Education, arranged to bring the training to the University. It touched on topics such as legislation that impacts students affected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) administrative program, the history of migration to the U.S. from different parts of the world and how to “check” how people talk about the undocumented community through social media.

The program spanned from the noon until 3 p.m. One workshop in the agenda lined all participants in the room into two rows, allotting everyone a partner to start a dialogue.

“What does the American dream mean to you?” was one of the questions asked.  

The back-and-forth between partners led to a group conversation on how to define what it is to be American and how to find a balance between American exceptionalism and Americanism. A handout distributed at the beginning of the training defined Americanism as “an articulation of the ideology, traditions, culture and customs of what is perceived to be ‘American.'”

Another part of the workshop elaborated on New Jersey’s recent legislative efforts to give certain undocumented students eligibility to apply for in-state financial aid.

The Daily Targum reported that bill A3467/S699 cleared the New Jersey General Assembly and New Jersey Senate, and now awaits final approval from Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.). 

There are more than 500 DACA recipients currently studying at Rutgers across all of its campuses, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer

“I think trainings like these are important to start conversations about how to begin supporting undocumented students in institutions, especially for people who are going into higher education,” said Yuriana Garcia Tellez, the senior program coordinator of undocumented student services who was also in attendance. “The training should be mandatory.”

Garcia Tellez said a short documentary-style video that was shown as part of the training also allowed participants to see who a DACA recipient is. The video followed undocumented students at NYU who immigrated from Asia and South America and struggle to find the money to pay for college.

She said that it is important to give the recipients a face, because it humanizes them and allows others to connect and empathize with them.

“I feel like there’s not that many trainings like this offered at many institutions, so I learned to be more of an advocate for other students,” said Rachel Sawyer, a first-year student in the Graduate School of Education

Sawyer said although she identifies as a Black woman, she appreciated the training because it allowed her to learn the laws and history of other students of color.

Siles-Osejo said she first came across DREAM Zone and its curriculum when she worked for NYU in its Washington, D.C. office, where professional student-services staff help students adjust to life in the city outside of class, according to its website.

She said she dedicated herself to creating programs that could support the undocumented community at Rutgers, because she felt there was a scarcity of programs and information available when she was searching for it. 

“That’s a reason why I wanted to bring DREAM Zone to Rutgers,” she said.

Mangual Figueroa said she helped Siles-Osejo organize the event because she felt a responsibility as a professor to be part of the growth and action to help undocumented students at Rutgers.

As Siles-Osejo prepares for graduation, she hopes that someone will pick up where she left off and continue to build the relationship with NYU and DREAM Zone.

“Even though we’re distinct and different institutions, it’s important to maintain those relationships and learn from other institutions on how they’re raising awareness about different student populations on campus,” Siles-Osejo said. 

In the finale of the training, every participant was handed a certification card that confirmed they learned about the issues undocumented students face in higher education. It was also a call-to-action to continue learning how to be an advocate for that community. 

“I hope, in some way, this has allowed me to leave my mark at Rutgers,” she said. “Either way, I hope it continues.”

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