This university opened a Dreamers Resource Center. Here's their advice for other colleges.

Kathleen Escarcha, staff writerKathleen Escarcha, staff writer

On January 22nd, the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) opened its Dreamers Resource Center—an office dedicated to supporting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program recipients on campus.

We spoke with UTSA's Courtney Balderas-Jacob, interim program manager of the center, and Lydia Bueno, director of the Student Center for Community Engagement and Inclusion, to discuss how they established the Dreamers Resource Center and their advice for any colleges who are considering a similar resource. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Where did the idea for a Dreamers Resource Center originate?

Students and faculty have been advocating for a Dreamers Resource Center for the last eight years. But in the past year in particular, there's been a greater push to dedicate a space for Dreamers on campus.

So when Taylor Eighmy, the university president, took office, advocates from the student-run Immigrant Youth Leadership (IYL) organization submitted research on Dreamers Resource Centers in California and Utah as well as a proposal to open a center on campus.

What made it possible to open the center?

We chose to house the center within the Inclusion Center so we didn't need to build an entirely new space. We were supported by university funds and designated tuition funds to finance the staff.

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How are you promoting the center to the students who need it?

We rely a lot on IYL's ally network to spread the word about our resources to Dreamers on campus. Eighmy has been a vocal supporter of the Dreamers Resource Center and has publicized our work in emails to the campus community. We've also had six different news stations, two of which are Spanish speaking, cover the opening of the center. 

We have had about ten walk-ins and 25 emails or phone calls since the center opened. The numbers are still small so we're focusing on raising awareness about the center through a referral network of faculty and staff advocates.

How did you build such a broad referral network of advocates?

In the fall, we led a Dreamer 101 training to educate faculty and staff about the resources available to Dreamers. Of the 100 people who attended, 98% elected to be advocates.

What kind of services does the center provide?

The center provides Dreamers with a main point of contact for comprehensive and consistent information. We meet with students one-on-one to answer questions and connect them to the right resources. The center also acts as a safe space for students to meet with staff and other students. We also partner with local nonprofits, so although we're not legal experts we can direct our students to these organizations for legal help.

How did you uncover the pain points for Dreamers?

We meet with students who have identified as DACA recipients to ask about the hurdles they experience on campus. Many students report challenges in the admissions, onboarding, and financial aid process. We also discuss any changes we've made in our resources with IYL to get their input.

Related: Process map the student experience to find hidden pain points

What kinds of challenges do students face during admissions?

Many high school students don't know they can qualify for in-state tuition if they graduate from a Texas high school and establish state residency pursuant to House Bill 1403. Incoming students also aren't sure how to fill out the Texas Application for State Financial Aid (TASFA) without disclosing their status.

What changes have you made to smooth out the admissions process for Dreamers?

We're creating a video to walk students through the TAFSA that we will showcase on the center's website. We're training our admissions counselors and recruiters to educate Dreamers about their right to attend college and ability to qualify for academic scholarships. We also worked with our admissions department to host Dreamers Sessions for prospective students who visit the campus.

What kind of reactions have you received about the Dreamers Resource Center?

Alumni have emailed us to share their experiences as Dreamers on campus. Many wish they had had a Dreamers Resource Center to help them navigate tricky conversations with faculty. Overall, our campus and our president have been overwhelmingly supportive of the center.

What steps should campus leaders take to establish a Dreamers Resource Center?

First and foremost, educate your campus community that a Dreamers Resource Center is not a political issue, it’s a human rights issue. Read your state's laws to determine whether Dreamers can qualify for in-state tuition and mobilize your allies to create an on-campus support network. We also recommend reaching out to other colleges who have established a center.

Any advice for administrators who want to do more to support their Dreamers but don't have the resources to open a center?

It can be as simple as a webpage. There are great resources online that you can showcase on your website to educate and empower your campus.

Keep reading: How to build your DACA FAQs

Will the DACA decisions on March 5th affect the Dreamers Resource Center?

The Dreamers Resource Center is here to stay. No matter what politicians decide about DACA, there will still be undocumented students, alumni, and employees on our campus who need assistance and support. There are 3.2 million undocumented children and young adults in the United States—colleges and universities will need to offer resources to support this population in the years to come.

What's next for the Dreamers Resource Center?

We're developing badges that allies can display on their office doors to show that they are advocates for Dreamers. Our Dreamer Ally program will allow offices to be designated as safe spaces for these students if 50% of the faculty and staff within the unit complete the training.

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