STC joints efforts to help Dreamers with new center and website

McALLEN — Undocumented students and those in mixed-status families can now find out what resources are available to them through a new centralized web site and contact person at South Texas College.

The Dreamers Center was recently unveiled as a new hub where all the resources available to these students can be found. The idea is to have a constant pipeline of information, officials said, so that students don’t have to go searching on various areas.

“We care about these students and we do want to help them,” said Matthew Hebbard, vice president of student affairs and enrollment management at STC. “So we started to develop the idea of creating a web page, and we realized that at our own website, that the information is there but it’s disconnected in different pages. So if you are a dreamer, what is the experience with that?”

Hebbard said they wanted to follow the footsteps of other colleges and universities that have created these same centers catering to undocumented students. One of these institutions is the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, which also opened its Dreamer Center in 2018.

STC works closely with UTRGV as many students transfer between the two institutions, so Hebbard said they wanted to make sure they could have consistency in the resources they have available to them.

“Many institutions of higher ed are very concerned about the population,” he said. “We’ve served Dreamers for years so internally we had a good discussion on what can we do better in order to let them know they still can attend college in the state of Texas. … One of those things is bring together all of the services in one place.”

The website has links to resources such as counseling, legal aid, enrollment and financial aid information as well as links to outside entities such as the South Texas Immigration Council and La Union del Pueblo Entero.

For those that want to contact an STC official directly, the college also allocated a staff member at then current enrollment center who is now the person of contact for any questions related to Dreamers. Hector Cerda, coordinator of enrollment services, will serve this roll.

At STC there are more than 800 students either undocumented or part of the DACA program — Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals. But the anti-immigrant rhetoric and presidential promises to end such programs of the now President Donald Trump, caused many anxiety in this population of students.

Back in 2017 STC saw a decrease between 100 and 200 students of mixed status that did not enroll in courses. That number has rebounded, Hebbard said, but many of those anxieties and concerns still exist.

It was around the fall of 2017 STC formed a committee with in-house professors, administrators, and other entities such as representatives from the migrant advocacy group LUPE, and the education consortium RGV Focus.

The main goal was to figure out what these students are most in need and centralize that information. That might be in the form of internal resources such as STC contacts and policies, or external resources such as bringing presentations about their rights.

Mexican American Studies professor Trinidad Gonzales was part of this committee and said some of what students have voiced is a lot of anxiety due to fear of deportation due to their own status or that of a family member. Some talked about parents with fear of driving due to this and them having to take time from their studies to take on additional responsibilities at their home.

He would help the students as he could, he said, but now it’s easy to direct them to one place within the college that can help answer some of their questions and concerns.

“I’m dealing with on-the-ground the nuts and bolts of mixed-status families or students who are undocumented trying to figure out how to basically live their day-to-day life in this situation,” said “I would forward them information I knew was available, now what this Dream Center does is it makes it easy for me to do that, it makes it easy for me to direct them to one spot with all of the resources, before I was having to direct them to different spots.”

The committee will be ongoing and Hebbard said the goal is to keep an eye on the use of these resources and additional needs that might arise. If the demand exceeds the current resources, they might need to find a way to expand the center to ensure these students have enough resources to stay in school and attain their goals.

“The next level is can we identify a space for dreamers? That would be great if we can,” Hebbard said. “We are going to measure how effective this is and just keep our pulse on things … also intensifying the services and also working with some of the great community partners that are doing great things and continue to work closely with UTRGV.”