On Monday, Mar. 2nd, M.E.Ch.A. de Vassar, a cultural organization on campus, sent a letter of demands to President Catharine Hill regarding the College’s enrollment and financial policies when admitting undocumented students. The letter was also sent to Dean of the College Chris Roellke, Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Art Rodriguez and Chair of the Committee on Inclusion and Excellence Zachariah Mampilly.
M.E.Ch.A. stands for Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlan, and it is a chapter of a national organization that formed out of the struggles of the Chicana/o activist movement from California during the 1960s. At Vassar, the organization has been in existence since 1999 and, as of 2008 it has operated non-hierarchically, under a consensus-based decision-making model.
According to its website, M.E.Ch.A. de Vassar rejects all forms of oppression, such as racism and white supremacy, classism and imperialism, homophobia and heteronormativity, and sexism and patriarchy. Specifically, it seeks to intervene in these structural forms of oppression as they are manifested within the multiple Chicana/o, Mexican and other Latina/o ethnicities, and Native American communities. The group conceptualizes this, then, as the liberation of Aztlan.
Furthermore, M.E.Ch.A. sees education as an integral part of this process; thus it is committed to increasing the numbers of its gente on campus, and also creating an open and autonomous space wherein thought and action can be united in praxis.
The letter began by commending Vassar’s commitment to increasing the accessibility of higher education through its need-blind policy and generous financial aid. However, it points out that despite this commitment, both Vassar and the state of New York have limited access to a particular population in the United States—undocumented students. An estimated 146,000 youth in New York who have been educated in New York State public schools are currently ineligible to receive financial aid under federal and state law. Of the more than 4,500 undocumented students who graduate from New York high schools every year, only 5-10% pursue a college degree due to tremendous financial obstacles.
Those who would benefit from the bill must meet specific requirements, including having attended a New York State high school for at least two years and graduated, or obtained a New York State GED, and having enrolled in a college or university in the state of New York within five years of graduating. Also required of the bill’s targets is affirmation of the intent to apply for legal status upon their ability to do so and fulfillment of the Higher Education Services Corporation’s requirements for TAP. (New York State Youth Leadership Council, “New York DREAM Act [A.2597 / S.2378] Information Sheet”)
The letter requests that Vassar commit to not only accepting undocumented students, but to further their commitment by supporting the New York State Dream Act and by changing Vassar’s existing policies towards undocumented applicants. The New York State Dream Act would allow undocumented students, who meet in-state tuition requirements, access to more financial aid and scholarship opportunities. The Dream Act would grant undocumented students eligibility for the New York State Tuition Assistance Program.
The passing of the Dream Act, which has been supported by school officials at a number of Vassar’s sister institutions, would not only allow undocumented Vassar students to receive state funding, but it would allow private funds to be legally and transparently raised for undocumented students who choose to attend private institutions of higher learning. Furthermore, the letter attests that support for the Dream Act would exemplify Vassar’s strong commitment to increasing and sustaining diversity and working toward a more egalitarian and inclusive community.
The letter specifies a list of requests that M.E.Ch.A. would like to be implemented following a letter of support. The list includes requests for a public press release from the President’s Office detailing Vassar College’s support for the New York State Dream Act, a campus-wide e-mail announcing the College’s commitment to increasing access to undocumented students and a change in admissions policies to evaluate the applications of undocumented students as domestic students, following a need-blind admissions policy.
Among some of the other things requested were a commitment to provide the full financial need for undocumented students to attend Vassar and the creation of a fund that would allow financial assistance for undocumented students who wish to apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which is a memorandum that allows for a two year work permit and access to a driver’s license for undocumented immigrants that have arrived to the United States as children.
Also mentioned was the desire for the provision of a College administrator, who would be required to understand current immigration policies and would have to be able to advise students on how to navigate the United States legal system without being a documented citizen, as a resource for undocumented students, and the desire for a more transparent policy regarding undocumented students at Vassar. This would include more specific information concerning the policy on the admissions website and having the information available to current students, trustees, alumni, and other members of the community.
M.E.Ch.A. member and supporter of the letter Guillermo Valdez ’15 commented, in an emailed statement, “Art [Rodriguez] and Cappy expressed their interest in changing the college’s policies and making them more inclusive towards undocumented students, so hopefully this can be the start of some real positive changes to the campus climate.”