Gilda Gallardo (COL ’17) was a junior in high school when her family was torn apart. After constant worry about Immigration and Customs Enforcement home raids, her mother was deported to Tijuana, Mexico.
Three years later, Gallardo is an undocumented sophomore at Georgetown and a member of a new group called UndocuHoyas, which has brought her close to other students with similar stories.
Students founded UndocuHoyas this fall after identifying a lack of support at the level they wanted and needed on campus.
The group, which has no formal leadership as it is non-hierarchical, consists of around 10 involved student members, along with faculty and staff advocates and mentors.
“The group started meeting solely because everyone wanted to be around other undocumented students,” Citlalli Álvarez (COL ’15), one of the group’s founders, said. “It’s a working group. It started as people just getting together at my house.”
Alvarez is originally from Mexico, and currently works as a research assistant in the department of anthropology, researching immigration policy, specifically related to child migrants. She also serves as the president of Hoyas for Immigrant Rights.
Álvarez said that the group serves as a support system for undocumented students who face a unique set of challenges at college.
“There are specific issues that we face that no one is really aware of, so we kind of have to deal with it on our own,” Álvarez said. “New studies show that undocumented students are 30 percent more likely to be depressed in college because of the things that we’re dealing with, like worrying about if our families are safe. Georgetown goes on about cura personalis and caring for the whole person, but at CAPS, no one knows how to talk to undocumented students about their specific issues.”
UndocuHoyas meets about once every week, and 10 or more people usually attend gatherings. During the meetings, members discuss their specific needs on campus and plan ways to make changes.
Gallardo said that although each undocumented student has different needs, there are several changes that can be made that will help all of them.
“We’ve all been touched by specific things,” Gallardo said. “In general, I think we can all agree that there needs to be more change at an administrative level, which is why we’ve all grouped together.”
The group is advocating for a number of issues on campus, and is working with administrators to formulate solutions. Gallardo said that in the short run, the group wants to create a resource page on the website for the Center for Multicultural Equity and Access for prospective and current undocumented students, as well as alumni.
Álvarez said Georgetown needs a full-time staff member that has background knowledge and gets paid to know how to work with undocumented students. Currently, CMEA Assistant Director of Academic and Student Support Services Cinthya Salazar works closely with the group even though that is not part of her specific job description.
“Cinthya helps us just because she’s really great, but it’s not her job,” Álvarez said. “She’s already the director of a program, which takes a lot of effort. We really want someone to be hired, like a full-time staff member to work with undocumented students.”
Álvarez said that she is frustrated because the group wants more access to the administration, where large-scale change occurs.
“A lot of times we’ll direct questions at administrators, and they’ll send those questions to Cinthya,” Álvarez said. “It’s frustrating because we see her all the time; she comes to our meetings; she’s very engaged with us. We want to be in communication with other people who are higher up and making decisions. Cinthya’s done everything she can to help us, but the conversation needs to move beyond that.”
One of the other main concerns of the group is the study abroad requirement for undocumented students who want to major in a language.
“Students can’t major in a language here unless they study abroad. They can waive it, but you have to go to the department and explain your story,” Gallardo said. “But it shouldn’t be like that because it’s an emotionally draining experience to always have to go through bureaucracy to get that.”
Another pressing concern for the group is the fact that Georgetown’s website does not include information for undocumented students. Although the university does accept undocumented students, the website does not currently include a clause that tells undocumented students that they are permitted to apply. Álvarez said that many students do not know that their citizenship status does not affect admission.
“A lot of undocumented students are looking for that statement to make sure they are able to apply,” Álvarez said. “A lot of them are qualified and would get into Georgetown, but there’s no way right now for them to know that they can get in.”
Last semester, the group met with administrators from the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, who promised to add language to the Georgetown website that would state that the university will consider applicants “regardless of citizenship status,” a clause that has not been previously included. The language has yet to be added to the Georgetown website.
Office of Undergraduate Admissions Senior Associate Director Jaime Briseño worked with the group to draft a statement of intent to change the language of Georgetown website. According to Briseño, the clause will be added to the university’s website once it is accepted by the university counsel. He did not comment on why the counsel has yet to clear the statement.
“Whatever we post on our website would need to be cleared by the university counsel’s office to ensure it is consistent with university wide policies,” Briseño said. “It has been submitted to them for review, as we need to ensure that whatever is on our website is run through appropriate channels.”
Briseño also helped take the social security number section out of the application because UndocuHoyas explained that some undocumented students shy away from applying to Georgetown when they see a request for a social security number.
“We could see how some potential students might see the Social Security number request on the application and might be hesitant, so we removed that completely,” Briseño said.
The group has also led a few “teach-ins” with different university staff members and the Division of Student Affairs to better inform them about undocumented students.
“The staff here is completely clueless about undocumented students,” Álvarez said. “They don’t know that we’re here or how to support us. The Division of Student Affairs hasn’t had training on how to talk to undocumented students or how to provide resources for them. We broke it down and told them what we’re facing in the admission process with financial aid, the career center and academics.”
Gallardo said she envisions a future for Georgetown with increased on-campus support for undocumented students.
“My big dream, my big vision, for Georgetown would be to have a resource center for undocumented students and students from mixed-status families,” Gallardo said. “Georgetown, as a Jesuit institution, is looked at as a leader, and so it needs to step up its game.”
Álvarez said that she wants to see the university take action.
“Georgetown has said that, as a Jesuit institution, they support undocumented students,” Álvarez said. “Now, it’s at the point where they have to live out that commitment.”