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Undocumented at Bryn Mawr College

lcastrejon's picture

Bryn Mawr College is a women's liberal arts institution in which its undergraduate students are governed by the Student Government Association (SGA), a non-political group on campus that focuses on academic and social matters. Every year, SGA hosts Plenary, which is a time when members of the student body present a resolution containing information and a proposition regarding current policies, regulations, etc. that the member would like to either omit, alter or improve.

In the spring of 2012, a junior from the class of 2013, Mia[1] proposed that for an institution that, “prides itself in being a force for social justice and in its self-governance, making recommendations to the administration to bring about change in its own community”, Bryn Mawr should publicly state their stance in support of undocumented students on their website and other forms of outlets. In addition, Bryn Mawr should revise its application to allow undocumented students to accurately identify themselves and assure students that information provided to the institution will not be used against them. Other requests such as, Bryn Mawr opting out of E-Verify and declare itself as a sanctuary without the religious connotation can help undocumented students on campus feel safe and enjoy aspects of college life that they may not otherwise enjoy.

Several concerns had been raised once she had finished presenting her resolution. For instance, some students had mentioned the concern of whether or not this was truly a matter for the students to pursue especially when SGA is supposed to be seen as a non-political organization. Another concern was the legality, some students felt uncomfortable with the possibility of Bryn Mawr being liable for the consequences that could result by supporting such a resolution.

At one point towards the end of her resolution Mia had said the following,

   “What makes you think it’s not school politics? If Bryn Mawr is social justice minded it should have the guts to do what other people haven’t been doing because they think it’s right, and not avoid it because it’s not their place or because it’s national politics. Bryn Mawr should not follow the norm if it doesn’t seem right.” -SGA Spring Plenary 2012 Minutes 

I was undergoing my first year at Bryn Mawr when Mia had presented her resolution in front of our student body. At the time, I supported her but I wasn’t ready to take on an active role and voice my concerns. Now as a senior about to graduate college I think back to this experience and remember feeling doubt because I wasn’t sure just how valid her arguments were. Would we be actually breaking the law? Would Bryn Mawr get into trouble? Mia’s resolution and her activism while at Bryn Mawr became one of the reasons why I had always wanted to do more research on this matter. I realize that although I doubted Mia at the time, I really just needed to find out for myself just what exactly are undocumented students facing and what can we do to help.

In terms of the institution publicly stating its stance on supporting undocumented students toward applying to its institution, Bryn Mawr would not be breaking the law. For one, the state of Pennsylvania currently has no law prohibiting undocumented students from being admitted into higher institutions and two, even if it did Bryn Mawr is a private institution meaning that only Bryn Mawr has the power to decide whether or not they would like to welcome an undocumented student into their institution, which has already been occurring since Mia declared herself to be an undocumented student herself. In terms of E-Verify, again Mia was right, E-Verify is optional and when it comes to colleges/universities, they are provided with two options; have separate components of the university enroll in E-Verify or the entire university enroll in E-Verify instead. If Bryn Mawr were to decide to only enroll certain components of the college into E-Verify, undocumented students would still have the possibility to work on campus like other students.

As of right now, Bryn Mawr still continues to have undocumented students present on its campus although they make a significantly small number. Even though Mia’s resolution was unable to pass and was postponed indefinitely, one can access Bryn Mawr’s website and see on their First-Years FAQs page their policy clearly stating,

“Bryn Mawr College does not discriminate on the basis of national origin or citizenship in our admissions process. In addition, Bryn Mawr makes admissions decisions from a global perspective and does not separate the pool into “international” and “domestic” for the purposes of making those decisions. While the College has practiced need-sensitive admission for all applicants since 1995, Bryn Mawr also meets full demonstrated financial need for all students who are eligible, including undocumented students.” 

Of course this is just the first step of a long journey but at least we can say that there is hope.

[1] Name of individual has been changed.