EDINBURG — A process long in the making intended to better support undocumented students and other groups at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley is expected come to fruition as officials have requested funding to create a new support center.
Recently, the Student Government Association of UTRGV passed a resolution for the creation of what they call a Dream Center where undocumented students can find resources such as counseling and guidance with financial aid opportunities and registration. University officials confirmed this is something that has been in the works for a few years and they are moving forward with its creation, which is planned for the fall of this year if funds are allocated.
“These groups are under a lot of stress given their status and given the rhetoric that our current government uses,” said Senator at Large for UTRGV Edinburg, Denisce Palacios. “It’s important to make sure that they are mentally healthy.”
The association was approached by students who were concerned that while the state allows undocumented students or those who are DACAmented – legally in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program – to receive in-state tuition, there wasn’t a specific person or place they could go for information pertaining to their status.
Some of the main questions heard by student representatives and university officials were how to find job opportunities after graduation, where to find grants or financial aid opportunities while in college, and how to protect their information or status from being divulged.
This is something university officials say has been in the works for the past few years as they began hearing concerns from student activists and others close to the issue. The main issue was having staff well versed on how to address the unique issues that come with not having a legal status in the U.S. or having an unstable status while trying to acquire a degree and a job after graduation.
“We started meeting with students about a year ago,” said Rebecca Gadson, dean of students at UTRGV. “Ideas were presented in terms of what we could do as an institution to break down any barriers and just really help provide support and affirmation for our students in that experience. And I think we try to do that for all of our students in general but we have to also be responsive to the unique circumstances that students are going through.”
Gadson began by requesting funds to be allocated for what they call an Overarching Center in which to offer support for students with many different identities and circumstances. This center would in turn house the Dream Center with staff specifically hired for and trained in the area of how to better guide and support these students.
Kristin Croyle, vice president for student success, said it was over the past year that they heard increased concerns over the need to expand support to this group of students considering many of them felt pressures from the political climate around the country.
The main way in which students asked for this support to be expanded was through the center, she said, and officials began looking into what other universities had to offer. This is when they found out UT-San Antonio was also working on the development of a center catered to undocumented and DACAmented students.
“It’s the same approach that UT-San Antonio is taking, an overarching center that has more of an inclusion focus and within it a Dream Center,” Croyle said. “It would be a mix of concrete factual resources and clear communication of support and belonging too.”
The budget request, which includes hiring one full-time staff member and one graduate student for the center, has already received initial approval and they are expecting to receive final approval on the overall budget by July. If the item receives approval the goal is to have a center in place by the fall.
The university’s SGA are also conducting their own surveys of the general student population asking what resources they would like to see offered in the space. The hope is to compile the results and present it to Croyle and Gadson in about a week, Palacios said, so they can take that feedback into consideration.
In the meantime, Gadson said they are moving forward with the panning process as if this has already been approved. This includes getting feedback from students via additional anonymous surveys, finding a location for the overarching center and identifying adequate training.
“I’m already looking at identifying those spaces,” Gadson said. “It’s about having dedicated personnel who focus on how we can continue to expand and support the whole person.”