The Experience of Black Undocumented Students
Published on August 26, 2021
When it comes to undocumented student experiences in the United States, the voices of Black students are often only a small part of the conversation. Sometimes, their experiences are left out entirely.
However, Black undocumented students account for nearly 7% of undocumented students pursuing college, according to the President's Alliance. These students hail from a variety of regions across the world, including Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean.
To learn more about Black undocumented student experiences, we spoke with three students, who described the issues, challenges, and unique nature surrounding their identity on campus.
Interview With Student Olivia Baodi Sarfo
Interview With Student Matthew Brown
Interview With Student Helen Udeochu
How would you describe your educational experience? How did your identity and status impact your experience?
Olivia: Well, my college path has not been the regular one we are all familiar with. I first went to a community college for three years. It took me an additional year to finish because it was still costly due to my immigration status, so I took classes at a slower pace in order to afford it. After graduating from there, I attended a four-year institution for one year.
Finances have always been a struggle for my family and I, but entering a four-year institution made it even worse; I was at the verge of completely stopping school. It was during that year that the Golden Door Scholars program was also accepting non-DACA applicants; the timing could not have been any more perfect than that. I applied for it and really gave it my all because it was my last straw, and thankfully, I was accepted as a recipient.
As a Black student, how has your racial identity influenced your campus experiences? Has your current or previous immigration status informed this experience at all?
Olivia: As a Black student, my racial identity has definitely influenced my campus experience. Being on predominantly white college campuses as a Black undocument female can be scary sometimes. I used to be crippled by fear because I thought that if I did anything racially profiling and if anyone on that campus found out about my status, they would report me to the authorities and everything would go downhill from there. Thankfully, that has not been the case, but such thoughts get to me sometimes.
My current immigration status informs this experience all the time, especially in classrooms and resident hall settings. I am surrounded by people with different opinions and sometimes, how they are expressed can be so mind-boggling and uncomfortable. Usually, I go through these mental processes where I weigh out the situation to see if I should share my thoughts on the matters being discussed or not. It is almost like walking on eggshells all the time because of my racial identity, in addition to my immigration status. Most times, I speak up even after all those thoughts. Because if I don't in those moments, who will?
Matthew: As a Black student, I find that my voice is somewhat silenced. Being at a predominantly white institution often means that my white counterparts are the ones in the leadership positions, the ones whose voices tend to hold more power than the voice of a student in my position. My campus has had many conversations surrounding race and racial healing, and I had the opportunity to uncover the history of racism as it pertains to the founding of my university.
How can colleges and universities better support undocumented students?
Matthew: I think that colleges and universities can better support undocumented students by creating safe spaces for them to be heard. Oftentimes, I think that because students who are undocumented are usually students of color, they tend to be overlooked and their voices are silenced. Creating a safe space for them and demanding that the university administration find ways to provide support is key for undocumented students to feel successful.
Helen: Colleges and universities can have open conversations with every student about what it means to be undocumented. The majority of people that I have come in contact with that are attending the same college as me are ignorant about immigration. They don't understand the process that it takes to become an American citizen and they believe that the hardships undocumented individuals go through are self-imposed. Colleges and universities can train counselors that better understand the circumstances of undocumented students and that will be able to connect us to resources and opportunities that we are eligible for.
If you could give a current college student who shares the same identities and experiences as you any advice, what would you say?
Olivia: I would tell them, "Don't limit yourself. It is easy to get in that mindset of 'I cannot achieve this because of my status and/or identity.' And I know it is difficult to not have that mindset, but you are more than your immigration status and you have a lot more to offer outside of the margins society has placed you in. Keep going, keep fighting for your right as a human being that just wants to live and exist like others because that is your right. Keep fighting the good fight."
Matthew: Don't let your identity and experiences define what you can and cannot do. Sure, there are opportunities that may not be available to you because of your experience, but that doesn't mean that you cannot succeed. That doesn't mean that you cannot find ways to excel above your peers. Find ways to tap into opportunities that allow you to delve deeper into what you're passionate about. And as people see your dedication to what you do, as they see your persistence and perseverance to succeed, they will elevate you to places you never thought you'd be.
Helen: Do not give up. Because of our identity and status, we will face obstacles and hindrances along the way but keep striving. Continue to work hard and dream big. Never doubt yourself or your abilities. Do not be afraid of failing — the greatest lessons in life are learned from failure. You are smart enough and you are worthy of everything good that life has to offer. Apply for everything that you're eligible for, never limit yourself. Your path is a unique one but it's only going to make you stronger. Remember the people who made and continue to make sacrifices for your future. I promise you that you are destined for greatness.
Feature Image: SOPA Images / Contributor / LightRocket / Getty Images