Navigating through higher education is difficult on its own, but it's especially confusing and stressful for undocumented students, and even more so if they don't have anyone they can turn to.
"It was difficult to navigate just because you didn't know what scholarships you could apply to or financial aid you could do," explained Cal State Bakersfield senior Valeria Veliz. "It was just pure FAFSA that was just for citizens."
There was no physical structure available on campus where she could seek resources and advice from, while also knowing she was safe to do so.
Her outlook on education eventually changed once she was approved for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. She received her work permit and better understood which scholarships were available for her.
Other students are not so lucky to be approved for the program, but that doesn't mean they'll be on their own during their educational journey. With the grand opening of the CSUB Dreamers Resource Center on Tuesday, undocumented and mixed status family students have a safe place on campus to ask questions and seek programs and services that help support their inclusion, retention and graduation.
Around 50 students, faculty and staff members gathered outside the new center, located near residence hall Rohan, to celebrate "one for the history books," as CSUB President Lynnette Zelezny described it.
The initiative to establish a Dreamers Resource Center began soon after Zelezny’s appointment in 2018. At the time, CSUB was one of eight CSU campuses that did not have a Dreamers Resource Center.
During the past year, the university worked to gather input from the campus community about services and programs necessary for students, locating a space on campus and hiring a Dreamers Resource Center and Multicultural Alliance and Gender Equity Center coordinator. CSUB alumna Hilda Nieblas was selected for the role.
The center will offer legal services to undocumented students and their family members, she explained. It will also serve as a safe space for students.
"It speaks volumes of the university and what we’re trying to accomplish as a whole — to be more diverse and inclusive — and also that every student has an equitable opportunity to education, regardless of their legal status," Nieblas said. "If I can impact one student a day, that’s one student that will be able to use our resources to navigate CSUB."
The number of undocumented or mixed status family — a family whose members include people with different citizenship or immigration statuses — students at CSUB is unknown since the university does not collect those numbers.
Nieblas also hopes to introduce education services for the campus community at large and identify other resources that are vital for students through discussions.
Though her time is almost done at CSUB, Veliz said it's a great feeling knowing other students will have a place available on campus where they can find help for themselves and their families.
"This center brings that sense of support and acknowledgement to all of our students that we exist," Veliz said. "Having a safe space where you feel like OK, maybe I’m not safe in the cafeteria where (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) could probably come in, but you know you have certified people here who can actually back you up and put themselves in the front line."
"It sends a very clear message of what we value at CSUB: we value collaboration, we value our students and supporting them and we value being an inclusive campus where all students feel that they belong," Zelezny said.