Duke students have sparked on-campus dialogue by forming a coalition dedicated to making the University more accessible to undocumented applicants.
AccessDuke, which formed at the beginning of this semester, has put forth a 40-page proposal calling for both domestic and undocumented applicants to be treated equally in terms of financial aid. The students involved have asked the University to publicly welcome undocumented students and suggested that more resources be made available to these students. Conversations about the necessity of equal access to higher education began because of the 50th anniversary of Duke’s integration this past year, student leaders say.
“Duke was one of the last major universities to admit black students,” said freshman McCall Wells, who helped spearhead the AccessDuke initiative. “We could make up for that by being one of the first to admit undocumented students. It would not only boost our reputation, but it would also just be a step in the right direction.”
She said the coalition’s goals are twofold—AccessDuke would like policy reforms on campus and for Duke to take a lead in the national conversation about undocumented immigrants.
Duke currently admits undocumented students, but it assesses their applications as “need-aware,” rather than “need-blind.” All U.S. citizen and permanent resident applicants are considered independent of their financial situation. AccessDuke suggests that the University reform its policy so that it meets all demonstrated need for both domestic and undocumented applicants.
“This issue is particularly crucial today in light of the national context,” wrote junior Yueran Zhang, who also helped organize the coalition, in an email Monday. “Congress is stagnant regarding immigration reform, and any substantial progress is almost impossible in the near future. When the state fails to fix the system, it’s time for the society to take action.”
President Richard Brodhead wrote a letter to U.S. Senator Kay Hagan in 2010 encouraging her to support the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act. He stated that undocumented students face unique barriers that are not of their own doing.
“We don’t think that students should have to suffer because Congress has reached a standstill on immigration reform,” Wells said. “President Brodhead has already made statements saying that he supports immigration reform, so we think that reform can be happening on campus. ”
AccessDuke parallels the “One State, One Rate” campaign, which was launched by students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill this past Fall and calls on UNC to grant undocumented students in-state tuition.
“AccessDuke is a great initiative,” said UNC junior Emilio Vicente, a leader of the “One State, One Rate” campaign and an undocumented immigrant who attracted national attention when he ran for student body president. “As a private university with a large endowment, Duke has more leeway in what it can do, and I hope that it lives up to its mission of promoting diversity.”
Vicente said that although the greatest barriers to higher education that undocumented students face are financial, they also face a unique set of challenges once at school, because certain opportunities—like study-abroad—are not available to them.
Zhang said AccessDuke is aware of these challenges and calls on the University to provide undocumented students the resources to overcome their particular adversities.
The coalition has received a number of endorsements from campus organizations, including the Black Student Alliance, Blue Devils United, Mi Gente, Duke Diya and the Honor Council. Members of AccessDuke will present their proposal to Duke Student Government Wednesday, and once they have enough student endorsements, they will present to the administration.