Freedom University Creates Educational Space for Undocumented Students
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As Labor Day approaches, students across the nation prepare to head back to campus. For many undocumented students, the dream of accessing an education remains out of reach even with President Obama's Deferred Action Policy in place. Most DREAM Act activists don't expect this piece of legislature to pass during an election, so Deferred Action is an important policy that temporarily allows undocumented youth to work in this country. Yet, Deferred Action doesn't help undocumented students' access education.
Undocumented students across the country face insurmountable obstacles that prevent them from going to college. Most undocumented youth are required to pay international student rates, even if they graduate from high school in the United States and live in this country most of their lives. Even more extreme, some states have barred undocumented students from enrolling in public universities.
In states placing barriers between students and college, faculty and community members find creative ways to help.
In the state of Georgia, a new cohort of undocumented students makes its way back to the classroom this weekend at a very special place called Freedom University.
Freedom University was founded by four faculty members at the University of Georgia in 2011 in response to the University Regents decision to ban undocumented students from the University of Georgia. Lorgia García Peña, a professor of Latino Studies at the University of Georgia, notes that "this is happening while we are celebrating the 50 year anniversary of the desegregation of the university. It is a way to segregate the university again." The ban didn't happen for financial reasons. The change in policy occurred because the regents argued that undocumented students were taking the seats of citizens. However, there were only four registered undocumented students when the ban was put into place. They were paying the tuition rates of international students because Georgia hasn't passed the DREAM Act that would allow students to pay the in-state tuition rate. "One of our students was the valedictorian of her high school. After graduation she was picking onions in the fields of Georgia," Professor García Peña remarks.
Freedom University helps prepare undocumented students for college and place them in private universities in other states with full scholarships. In collaboration with local high schools and community based organizations such as Georgia Undocumented Youth Alliance, Freedom University faculty prepare undocumented students for the SAT, assist with the college application process and guide them through grant writing. They continue to fight to reverse the ban at the University of Georgia, while focusing on working with private universities in other states that are open to enrolling undocumented students and have the funds to offer them full scholarships. Most of the students enrolled in Freedom University are Latinos, although Korean, African, and Arab students are also enrolled. Although some have finished an associate's degree, most are graduates from local high schools.
At the end of its first year, Freedom University successfully placed six of their students at private universities in states such as Massachusetts, New York and North Carolina with full funding. Hampshire College is one of the universities that publically announced a fellowship for undocumented students after working with Freedom U last year.
As Freedom University looks forward to its second year, it plans to welcome approximately 60 students into their expanded course offerings that include an Introduction to the Humanities, Introduction to Ethnic Studies and a history course focused on Mexico and the United States in global context, Spanish for Native Speakers, and Latin American Literature and Culture. Their courses aim to introduce students to the college experience, college level reading material, theory, and writing. Though the school is not yet accredited, founders of this volunteer driven organization are hoping to find universities that will accept the courses students take at Freedom University as transfer credits. They also hope to continue to place students with scholarship funds in private universities.