MLTalks:  Undocumented students, equal access to higher education, and Freedom University Georgia

MLTalks: Undocumented students, equal access to higher education, and Freedom University Georgia

September 11, 2019 0 By Ronny Jaskolski


>>ETHAN: Thanks, everybody.
Welcome. Thank you all
for coming out to today’s Media Lab
talks. Our event today
is called Undocumented Students: Equal Access
to Higher Education
and Freedom University Georgia. We are incredibly
lucky to have a great
group of people here. My name is Ethan Zuckerman.
I teach here at the
MIT media lab, and I’ll tell you a little bit
more about the event in a
moment. But I want to go down the line and
introduce you to some of
the friends that we’re really happy to have
here. Right next to me
is Bethany Moreton. She’s one of the Freedom
University founders. She’s also
a professor of history at Dartmouth.
We’ve got Betina Kaplan,
also a Freedom University founder and
associate professor of Spanish
at the University of Georgia. Going further
down, we have Keish
Kim. She’s a PhD student at Harvard.
She works with PUSH,
which is Protect Undocumented Students at
Harvard. Going further
down, we have Gustavo Madrigal. He is
one of the founding
students of Freedom University Georgia, and he
is an immigration paralegal
and also an immigration activist. And then
our end, we’ve got
Pamela Voekel, who’s a Freedom University
founder, associate professor
of history at Dartmouth. Did I
roughly get everyone’s names
and affiliations? OK. Awesome! That’s the main
thing I have to accomplish
here. But I also have to tell you ground
rules of what’s going on
here. We have an event that is here, live in
this space, but it’s also
being recorded. It’s also being streamed live out
on the web. People who
are watching it are going to be tweeting at
#mltalks. If you see me
playing on my phone, it is not that you are
not interesting. It is that I
am trying to figure out what people are saying
on the web and
bringing them into the conversation as well. That’s part
of my job as well.
This is the first of two events. We have the
live event here. We’re all
going to have a smaller event, which is entirely
off the record and that
is going to be in the civic media space
that immediately follows after
this. And so, that’s an opportunity for
people who aren’t comfortable
being on-stage, or may have questions or
things that they want to
talk about that they don’t want broadcast out to
the rest of the world.
And we have a space for that as well.
But our conversation here
is really about three subjects. It starts with
the disobedience prize, which
you saw launched here at the media
this past summer. That was
an attempt to show some of the
exciting things there are
happening around pro-social disobedience. We ended up
honoring four winners of
that award. One of those four winner
was Freedom University Georgia.
We have five of the founders who were
involved with that on-stage
with me today. And this is going to be
an opportunity for us to
talk about what Freedom University Georgia has been
trying to accomplish, but
really around this larger question of
undocumented students, access
to education, and transforming the educational
system so that more
people have access to higher education at
places like the University
of Georgia and also places like MIT, and we’re
going to end up talking
a little bit about what MIT has been doing around
these issues for good or
for ill, as well. So, before we jump in and
start by putting some of
students and some of the professors on the spot,
I’m wondering if we can
go to this video, and this is a trailer
for a documentary that
has been documenting what’s been going on with
Freedom University Georgia.
So, if we can go to that, that would be great.>>Why is this backwards?>>Hello, Nathan — we
are on the plane. We’re
about to take off. [Music.]>>Ask for her phone number.>>No. You
didn’t ask me. You
friend asked me.>>I actually said my friend?>>Yeah. That was childish.>>So,
we were
like, “Nah.” [Woman laughing.] [Music.]>>My dream
is to be
an astronaut, but.>>He’s
stuck with a
third-grade dream.>>No, I’m not. All right. OK. [Music.]>>I got an
education. I graduated. I’ve
been really lucky. So, there’s never really
been any obstacles, and
so now then, I want to go to college. [Music.]>>I’m a very smart
student. I can mess around a
lot, but I’m very smart, but yet I’m
here working, wasting
my life. [Music.]>>My grandmother will
always tell me to
be careful enough. If someone was to ask
me, “Are you illegal?” to
say that I was a citizen, that
I was
born here. [Sirens.]>>My mom got
stopped. The cop pulled
us over and found that she didn’t have a
license, and he said that he
had to take her in.>>Like, what’s the
point? I’m going to
make it here. They don’t
want me
here.>>We are involved on
a war on terror, and after
all, these are undocumented. That’s the point, really. We
don’t know who a lot
of these people are.>>There are people
purposely out to make
your day miserable, make your life less.>>We’re number
one. We’re number one.
We’re number one.>>Let me tell you, when I
received DACA, I took a risk, not
only for me, but for my family.>>They knew my address, so
to say that they don’t know
who we are, it’s a lie.>>One,
two, three.
Undocumented!>>I’m not
leaving until they come
and get me.>>I’m a Georgia boy. All
I’ve ever known is Georgia. I
don’t really want to leave. [Chanting.]>>People
united. We’ll never
be defeated.>>I’m not scared.
Like, I’m just not. Now,
we just fight harder, and we fight
smarter, and we
fight as one. [Music.]>>ETHAN: So,
we’re having this conversation
here at MIT at a very
interesting and very fraught
moment in time. We have a group
of people in the
United States who have grown up in this
country, have gone to
school in this country, who, in many
cases, don’t know their
citizenship status until they’re in the process
of applying to college,
or sometimes in the process of looking for
financial aid. We had
limited protection for undocumented people in
this country under
DACA. Through some political machinations, we are
now in a state where
DACA is no longer on the books.
It’s suspended, and there
are now negotiations happening between the
president and Congress over
the future of undocumented people we’ve
arrived in this country,
as children, who through no personal decision
of their own, find
themselves in a situation where they’re
undocumented. And, as
educator this country, this is an enormous
sort of moral and practical
challenge. How do we provide the education to
students who want the
chance to learn but who don’t have the
paperwork, don’t have the rights
in some states to go and attend those
state universities? And, so,
my friends who’s been involved with Freedom
University Georgia have been
very insistent that we center this conversation
on the experience of
students who found themselves, like the students
in the video, looking
at the situations, sort of deciding how do
you go further? And
so, Gustavo Madrigal, I’m hoping that you might help
us and sort of talk
about your experience as a student and how that
ended up sort of informing
Freedom University Georgia.>>GUSTAVO: Yeah, so
thank you so much.
And I guess I really have to start at
the end of my junior year
and going to my senior year. So, at the end of
my junior year, I thought that
I was going to go to college with my friends and
that I was going to
use the Hope Scholarship, which is a state
scholarship in Georgia to be
able to pay tuition. Then, I found out
through talks with my counselor
that I was not going to be eligible
for the Hope Scholarship, and
that I think, I remember just sort of being
in the room with her
and then she stopped beating around the bush
and just straight up asked
me, “Are you illegal?” and I said, “Yes,” and
I didn’t know exactly what
that meant, right, at the time. I knew that I
wasn’t documented in some way,
but I really didn’t know what the extent of
that was until I found out
that I wasn’t going to be able to go to
college, just like I had
planned with my friends. And, you know, at the end of
my junior year, I had a
3.9 GPA which went down to a 3.3 by the
end of my senior year because
my senior year, I didn’t really care anymore. I saw
no point of, you know,
keeping the work that I had been doing going.
And so, I sort of
just stopped. Then, I graduated and then, in September
of 2009, I had a
very, very bad car accident. And when I came
back I thought, “OK. Is
this really what life is going to be now? Is
this really who I want to be?
Do I want to give up on trying to go to
college?” And back then, I
didn’t know. Right? I didn’t know that just like
me, there were hundreds
of thousands. There were millions of people in the
same situation, and it wasn’t
until after that car accident, when I was
recovering, I was stuck at
home, I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t
work, which was the main
thing keeping me going then, and so I did
a search for illegal students
on Google, and the first thing that came up was
an article on the Dream
Act and then a small portal on the web
that was a meeting
place for undocumented youth from all over the
country. And that’s sort of
when I started getting involved with the activism
that was happening in
Atlanta and back then, the group was called
The Georgia Dreamers, and
I started getting involved with them because
what they were doing is
they were trying to mobilize as many people
for the Dream Act as
possible. And then in late 2010, we actually were
able to push the Dream
Act up for a vote, and we got a vote,
and then it failed. It passed
the House, but it didn’t pass the Senate. And that
was, I think of lot of
us credit it to five Democrats who decided to vote
against it and killed it
by voting against it. And so, I remember
then, there was this
anxiety within the youth were a part of the
Georgia Dreamers. And that
anxiety was, “Can we do what we think is
the most important work
without having any limitations placed upon that
work from, you know,
an organization that we’re a part of them?”
And we decided that yes,
we could do that, but that it would require
having a different group. It
would require having a different structure. And
it would require having
accountability to each other. And then, so after
2011, the Dream Act, you
know, in 2011, we decided that the fight was
no longer at the federal
level, so it wasn’t anymore about trying to
push the Dream Act
at the federal level because we were
fighting against many things,
but, specifically, in Georgia, we were fighting against
HB 87, and that is
like the SB 1070 copycat law that passed
in Georgia, and those laws
are still in the courts, so at any point,
you know, within the next
few years, we could see a decision that says
HB 87, SB 1070, these
are all legals. Right? So, these horrible, horrible
laws might actually be
enforced, and so we were also fighting secure
communities and HB 87,
which were these programs where local
law enforcement cooperates
with immigration customs enforcement to
try to streamline that
process of deportation for as many people as possible,
who end up being booked into
local police stations.>>ETHAN: And HB 87 was a law
that could
essentially require all local law enforcement
to essentially
act as immigration officials and demand
to see people’s papers.
So, obviously, incredibly threatening to any
undocumented population. When
these laws came around, were you at
school at this point? What
had happened to you after high school? You
got involved with Dream
activism. Where had you wanted to go to college?
Were you planning on going
to the University of Georgia?>>GUSTAVO: Not the University
of Georgia. I was planning to
go to Kennesaw State University, and I actually was
no longer in school when
I started getting involved. I graduated high school in
2009, and 2009 is when
I had my accident, and sort of
that’s where it
all began. But while I was fighting these
laws, while we were
fighting these laws, I was no longer in school,
and so,
that definitely was a protection that you
lose once you graduate
high school. Right? You’re no longer
a student. You’re just
another adult who’s undocumented,
and who’s
vulnerable.>>ETHAN: And what are
the laws in Georgia as
far as attending a state university
as an
undocumented student?>>GUSTAVO: Well,
so, as we were
fighting HB 87, as we were fighting s-com,
secure communities, and what
is the other one? 287G. Yeah. The
ban came. There’s too
many things. But, yeah, then the ban
came down, which said
that undocumented students could not attend the top-five
research universities
in the State of Georgia, and it also included
language that said that
any college, any public school in the
State of Georgia that
had rejected a qualified applicant, and for the
purposes of this ban,
qualified meant someone with lawful status or a
US citizen, that any institution
that had rejected a qualified applicant in the
last two years could
no longer accept undocumented students.
Now, undocumented students
not only couldn’t really go to
these top-five universities, but
also the ban was created so that it
could spread out, right? And,
you know, we couldn’t pay in-state tuition. We couldn’t
pay out-of-state tuition.
We had to pay international rates, which
are four times higher
than in-state tuition. And so that’s sort of
where, you know, the fight
turned away from, well not away because we
were still trying to
fight secure communities, 287G, HB 87, but then
it opened up another front,
which was the educational front.>>ETHAN: So, here’s
a law in Georgia
that is significantly more restrictive than a lot
of states. A lot of
states have essentially said, “For undocumented students, we
can’t give you in-state tuition,
but you can pay out-of-state tuition.”
In Georgia, you’ve gone even
further and essentially said, “If you can get
in, you’ll be paying
the international tuition, a much higher
rate, but beyond
that, you’re not admitted to the top-five
research universities in the
state, and for the rest of the universities in
the state, if they have
rejected anyone in the last two years, you
are not allowed admission,
because you might be taking that slot from
an otherwise rejected student.”
What did you yourself find yourself doing
at this point? You’re already
at this point an activist. You’re already working
against HB 87 and
then these other laws that are on the
books. But I know the end
of the story. You’re a paralegal. You’re an immigration
advocate. Did you get
to go to college? How did this end up happening?>>GUSTAVO: Yeah, so,
I did end up
going to college. So, what we
were fighting these things,
the idea for Freedom University was
born, I think within
the professors who are here, and Keish and,
you know, a bigger group
of people, and at that time, the group that
we had decided to create
so we could be accountable to ourselves and
not to some higher
power, right, that could dictate. What
we did was called
the Georgia Undocumented Youth Alliance or GUYA, and
then, I mean I think
then that’s sort of when the professors and the
groups linked up, right, and
the idea for Freedom University become a reality.
And, for me, at least,
it was going through Freedom University and
learning about these
resources and learning about the fact that, you
know, while I was no
longer in school, I had been out of school for
years, and I had so lost
hope, right, that I could continue, that I could try
to do this, that having
this team of people behind me and working
with me would help me
and, eventually, I ended up getting a full
ride to Hampshire College
in Western Massachusetts, and that’s how I was
about to go to college. If
it wasn’t for the people here in Georgia who couldn’t
be here, I remember one,
it was 4 AM in November of 2011. She
called me up, and I
was still half-asleep, and she asked me, “Have you
applied to any places?” And
I said, “I haven’t.” And she just, she went
off on me, and she was
like, “No. No. No. I need you to get up.
I need to to start applying.
I need you to start writing the essays. And, you
know, at 5, I want
you to send me essay that you wrote so that
we can edit them and
then you can continue writing them.” And so, that
kind of push, right. I
mean, that’s the kind of push that we also
needed because we were so
focused on all these things that we had
to push back against that
we forgot to push ourselves towards the goal that
we wanted to attain that
I think at that point became this abstract idea
of if we can manage
to get to a good point here, I might be able to go
to school, but now, it’s more for
the people who are on their way.>>ETHAN: So you
saw yourself needing to
win the movement first and then have that
opportunity, and actually one
of the things that Freedom University helped you do
was sort of go from
not being able to going to one of
the most selective liberal arts
colleges in the nation, now finding yourself sort
of committed in the
longer term here. Keish, can you talk about your
story, about sort of how you
got involved with this as well? And then, I want to talk to
the professors
about how they ended up sort of meeting the
other side
of this equation.>>KEISH: Right. No. I think
Gustavo did an amazing job laying
out sort of the all the outside forces that was making us
feel and being
you know sort of stuck in a certain type
of social and political
space. Right? So, I was
in a very, very similar
space. I had always known that I was
sort of undocumented, not
really knowing the repercussions of it until it
was college time, which a
lot of the stories often go is when
students are trying to obtain
higher education or there are other stories about
the driver’s licenses things.
Right? Trying to access just day-to-day like
livelihood that we sort
of meet these barriers and realize that we cannot
have those access. So, I
was very similar in that trajectory. I had
went into my counselor,
my guidance counselor in Georgia, trying to figure out
how I can go to
school. How can I afford school? And his answer
was that I couldn’t,
or he doesn’t really understand what should be done.
So, I did my own
route. I applied to several state schools. I
applied to all the schools
that my friends were applying to UGA,
University of Georgia,
Georgia Tech, Georgia State, a bunch of all the
colleges around. I applied to
a few out-of-state for some reason. I applied to
Auburn. I applied to Emory.
So, that was a private university. But it
ended up being down, going
down to the cost. So, how can your
family who are also
undocumented and working under the table 9-5, or
even more hours, multiple shift,
multiple jobs for low pay, to afford an international rate,
which is like what, $50,000,
$60,000 a year? I couldn’t.>>ETHAN: Yeah.>>KEISH: So, my frustration.>>No access to loans.>>KEISH: No. No access to loans.
So, you needed
a US citizen to sort of like guarantee and
be a benefactor
and be a cosigner. As an undocumented person, who do
you have access that can be
a cosigner to a $120,000 loan?>>ETHAN: Nobody.>>KEISH: Nobody.
Even with papers. Even
as a citizen. So, I met that barrier. I
also graduated in 2009, and I
went into a bad place where 1, I couldn’t get a job.
I was helping my parents. I
was working at a flea market. I was frustrated.
I was really scared. I
felt that my parents’ whole reasoning coming to the
US was sort of down
the drain, and that was a lot of burden
that I carried on my part.
I was naive. I was determined to go to
school, so I started
doing solo studying, which, looking back now, wasn’t very
effective. But I tried to
redo the SATs. I tried to read more. I tried
to do all these test preps
on my own for a year-and-a-half until I started
organizing. It was not a
good place to be. And the whole premise on
that, for me was, you
know, once in a while you’ll see in your
local ethnic newspaper, so
mine is Korean, Korean newspapers about success
stories of like students
who didn’t have papers but went
into Harvard or went
into some super-prestigious school and got a full
funding, and I think that
was my ultimate goal. Yeah, but that’s not
sustainable. So, I also reached
out to a national organizer. I think at
that time it was Perla
Law who was undocumented at that time, who is
doing amazing work as in
UC Berkeley being the legal counselor and staff
attorney there or was. And
I reached out to them and was like,
“Hey. I’m undocumented.” Or at
that time, we would use the word illegal. I
used the word illegal. I
was like, “I’m illegal. I need, I want to go to
school. I need to go to
school. Can you help me?” And they had connected
me to a fellow
organizer and comrade, Georgina, who was a
stronghold in Georgia, and that’s
when I had gone to the first meeting
that led up to
being the Georgia Undocumented Youth Alliance GUYA. Yeah –
and how we got involved
with Freedom U, I think it was in
culmination of everything. Right?
With HB 87, with policy 416, with all this legal pressure
that’s happening, with
a lot of students getting arrested, a lot
of students being detained,
putting in deportation proceedings, and we were
fighting. We were trying
to fight them. Right? That the
professors were also concerned
about their own students that were around
them that were certainly
getting pressured to 1 scope out and then
2 like kick out. Or
one, they lost funding. Right? Because of policy 416,
the institution started figuring
out who were undocumented and started
requesting funding. Right?
They need to pay certain bills, and they
had reached out to GUYA to
ask for some advice. Right?>>ETHAN: So this
had literally affected people
who were in school at that point for whom
tuition might go up by
a factor of 4.>>KEISH: Yeah.>>ETHAN: Because
suddenly, their citizenship
status became critical as far as how
it was going. For you,
you were not in school, but you were starting
to get involved with
the Undocumented Rights Movement>>KEISH: Yes.>>ETHAN: with the Dream Movement,>>KEISH: Yes.>>ETHAN: Let me now sort of
bridge over to my friends who
are teaching at University of Georgia at this point,
and I’m sort of curious how you
sort of ended up meeting and connecting at that point. So,
maybe, Betina, if I can, can I
go to you first on this?>>BETINA: OK. OK.
So, in 2010, when
the resolution against, the ban against undocumented
students passed, many
of us started considering ways in which
we could protest or oppose
to the ban. At that time, Pam and
Bethany were already very
well-connected, and they can tell a little more.
With students’ organizations
who were protesting against the rates of
tuition, and they were
going up and the scholarships were going down,
were shrinking. So, there
was a group of students in
UGA, mostly upper-division and
graduate students who were very engaged with
access to higher education.
In my department, we had recently hired
Lorgia García-Peña as the
specialist in Latino studies.>>The only
one in the
entire state, right?>>BETINA: Most likely, yes. [Laughing.]>>BETINA: Now, it has
changed a little bit, but
at that time, yes. And it was a
long fight to get
this position opened, and there was a
group of us within the
department who were thinking that the Latino student
body was growing and that
we were not offering anything to them, so we
were pushing for this to
happen. We got it. Lorgia was there. And
then we have this
horrible news that would affect mostly, not only,
but mostly Latino students.
So, I remember once talking to Lorgia in
a corridor and saying, “What
are we going to do? This is affecting us.
This is against us.” And
at the same time, I think, Pam invited me
to a meeting with
students and community members, and in that
meeting, we just starting
brainstorming on how to react directly to this
ban. I was following
the student movement GUYA, what they were doing.
I was following in the
news how young people were putting themselves to
arrest, and I felt horrible
that I was a grown-up person responsible for
educating these people and
was not doing anything. So, at that point,
we met and was a
community member, Beth O, who very naively said,
“Well, you three are
teachers.” We four. There was someone else. “Why
don’t you teach them?
They cannot go to college. Why
don’t you
teach them?” And after that, we
started thinking of options and
toying with the idea and, immediately, we
decided that we couldn’t
plan anything without asking the students what
their needs were and how
this idea of teaching a class would go with
them, so that’s when we met
with a group of GUYA students, and Keish was there,
and we decided that it
was the way to go, and we started as a protest
and also as a way to
support this group of students.>>ETHAN: So, Pam, my
understanding of this is that
this wasn’t just a solidarity actual. That was certainly a big
piece of that, but it
was also a very practical, educational, how do
we help students get
to the point where they can find
the resources to find
a school that’s willing to accept them and that
they can afford. How did
this actually work? Did you have a classroom? Did
you meet? What did you teach?
How did this work out?>>PAM: Yeah. I remember that
during these
organizational meeting Keish, in particular, and Gina,
who she referenced
really pushing saying, “You know, what we
want is to be in
a college classroom.” And, I think, if I’m not
misreading this, that GUYA was
saying, “This would be politically, incredibly useful to
have this kind.” And
it did attract an incredible amount of media.
And, so, we taught
that class, and because of Lorgia García-Peña, we
were able to offer a
kind of Latinx studies classes as well as
Latin American literature and
culture and US immigration from a more
or less Latinx kind of
perspective or a broader perspective, perhaps. And one
thing became really clear
and while we were fight the ban, and
while the students in the
class were at the absolute cutting edge of
that fight, there were
people like Gustavo and Keish who had already
graduated from high school
two years before and were really ready to go
to college and wanted to
do that. And what we saw when we began to
do things like SAT prep,
we needed SAT prep books, and so the
level of solidarity nationally
was amazing. Stacks and stacks of books, not
only for this American
Studies Latinx Studies class we were teaching, but also
for SAT prep book. And
then, the kind of solidarity that came out
of places that were
actually under resourced like Tougaloo College in
Jackson, Mississippi, a
historically black college and university. There was an
undocumented student there that
went into the admissions office and said,
“You know, there’s a lot
more people like me who are being banned
across the South, especially
in Georgia and South Carolina. You need to
open up these scholarships. You
need to open up the fellowships.” And so,
one of the biggest
receiving institutions that we found was one of
the poorest colleges in the
country. And the second one that was really
fabulous was Berea College, who
in the 19th century was one of the
first colleges to integrate along
racial lines and along gender lines, and, in fact,
in the 1920s, the Supreme
Court came in and shut that down and
said, “You can’t be integrated
along racial lines.” And so, Berea stepped up
and said, especially when
DACA passed and people were able to work,
because it’s a work-study school,
that they were able to provide scholarships. The
alumni at Hampshire, led
by a woman who was herself a first-generation
student, organized
to come up with the money for Gustavo’s four-year
scholarship. So, what
we saw was a lot of intense organizing and
incredible solidarity coming
from the HBCU, coming from Berea, and
coming from organizations in
Athens, like that we mentioned Betu who
was the head of
the Immigrant Rights Organization, from the
African American women who
ran the Economic Justice Coalition and already
had networks, so this
logistically to run something like this, you
need drivers. That’s always
the issue in social movements in the South,
right, is public transportation
is non-existent. And so we have these teams
of drivers who
are coming out of the Economic Justice Coalition.
We were receiving
death threats from the Klan and people like that,
and so the Economic
Justice Coalition provided someone who was out
in the parking lot while
the students were meeting on Sundays for these
three-hour intensive classes to
watch, you know, and not to call the
police, because that wouldn’t do
any good. Right? So, we had our own
kind of protection system
out of these pre-existing solidarity networks. And some
of the people doing
the driving were Teamsters, people from the
Racial Justice Action Center
in Atlanta. There were lawyers that came
in from the Southern Poverty
Law Center and the Southern Center for Human
Rights that took on
some of these cases, because some students with
broken talk lights had
police records, and so if they’re going to
leave the state to go to
college, that had to be addressed in courtrooms and
things. So, one of
the interesting things about Freedom U was
this incredible level of
solidarity form these under resourced colleges and
from these existing activist
networks, I think.>>ETHAN: So when
we think of this
as four professors got together at an
undisclosed location and held
free classes for undocumented students,
we’re seeing like the tip of
an iceberg of organizing that includes how
do people get there?
How do you protect the people who are there?
How do you think about
this larger question of what the goal is of
this? And it sounded like, from
very early on, the goal was not an alternative to
being able to go to
a university. It was the opportunity to get in there.>>PAM: And you have
to realize that the initial
organizing act was this Gina that Keish’s been
talking about. GUYA comes
out and does an organizing workshop for
students in the Athens area, and
Gina’s first thing was, “Everybody who’s over 30, and
everybody who is a citizen,
out of the room.” And so they did
the organizing.
It was GUYA who was pushing this and
was doing the
logistical work because, you know, social movements
are the reproductive labor.
Right? And so this was the group doing
that labor and having that
vision, I think, and they were the ones
who were connected to
these activist networks and Atlanta and things. And
so, put together this, kind
of took the befuddled professors and said, “Now look.
You know. This is what
you need to do.”>>KEISH: I mean, I
think that’s real, because I
think, I don’t know about you, Gustavo, but I think
a lot of us, yeah you
were too, jaded, and then very jaded. And the
aspect or perspective like going
being in a classroom or going to college was
far from our mind. I
think there’s a reason Lorgia had to you call at 4
AM, 5 AM and to ask
you to write a paper and application in an hour.
Right? So, I think
when even when Freedom University, before even we
actually like claimed and
embraced that name, we were just like, “What
does this classroom actually look
like? What is it actually supposed to do?”
And when we were using
our networks to like let the word out
so that students actually
were attending, and actually taking up space for
this classroom, there was a
lot of hesitancy and confusion of what
this was supposed
to be.>>ETHAN: And,
Keish, what did it
end up being? I mean, when people were
coming to these classes, you
know, what was getting taught? Was it about doing
a college-level class in
Latinx and American Studies, or was it about
thinking about what it
would mean to be someone who
was going into
higher education?>>KEISH: So there was a
lot, I think in the beginning
there was a lot of confusion. It was very
amorphous. There was a
lot of questions. Right? People were asking for all
kinds of classes. For me,
at that time, I was very dead-set on like
having an actual classroom,
like a college-level classroom was, what I
personally wanted. And that
was my personal investment. So, at that,
that’s definitely shown through,
that that was what I needed.
So, that’s what
we had stated. [Laughing.]>>Looking back now, I
remember in our first meeting
Keish was very eloquent, and she said something like,
“I have lost my personality
as a student, and I want to be a
student.” So, after that, in
the class, she insisted>>KEISH: Right.>>that she was already, again
a student.>>KEISH: Right.>>
that was a big gain.>>KEISH: Yeah. I
mean, looking back now
from where I am now, it’s really ironic
and funny that there was
a syllabus that was being drafted and compiled
over the summer. Like, just
multiple drafts. I remember>>17 pages.>>Keish: It was a very rigorous.
It was actually a very rigorous.
I still have it with me. It was very rigorous.>>Beyond graduate school.>>KEISH: It was actually
beyond graduate school. And now
that I’m in it, I know that
it was beyond
graduate school level. [Laughing.]>>KEISH: The funny thing was,
and then it was a very,
I think a lot, even the naming of the
classroom, even
naming of Freedom University, there was a
lot of power and intention
behind it. So, the classroom, the class that
was offered was titled
as American Civilization, and this was a
little wink at Harvard
American Civilization Program at that time. We had
then, since then, changed
our name to American Studies. We still have a lot of work to do. [Laughing.]>>KEISH: But the classroom,
the syllabus and the syllabus
in the class was titled American Civilization,
but what happened actually
behind and inside the syllabus was amazing, powerful
critiques on empire,
about statehood, sovereignty, about, and I was using
all kinds of scholarship and
sources that as ethnic studies. It was American
studies at its core. We
were reading. We were really ready graduate-level
readings. We were reading
George Lipsitz. We were reading
Jorge Gonzalez. We
were reading>>ETHAN: May Nai>>KEISH: May Nai. Right? [Laughing.]>>ETHAN: I see Bethany
laughing hard
about this, and Bethany of course
is an activist historian,
has thought a lot about
labor history and about
different social movement, sort of within the
Americas. How did you find
yourself thinking about this sort of going into
the classroom? Were you
approaching this as a scholar? Were you approaching this
as an activist? How were
you bringing yourself into this?>>PAM: Well, I mean I think what
Betina said
at the beginning. I remember the day that we
opened the
New York Times and there was the picture
of GUYA activists who had
sat down on the street in front of the
Georgia Capitol to protest these
this spate of laws. Right? And you see
these young people in
their graduation gowns, right, from high school, sitting
down and being dragged off
by the same beefy cops that we’re all
familiar with from 100
years of Southern iconography, and the reaction is,
“This is my institution that
is now being directly conscripted into this particular
from of injustice. There
has to be something strategic that you
can do with your
own imbrication in the committing of this injustice.”
And so, reaching out
to the people who were risking, and continue
every day, every minute that
they’re up here, to risk far more than any
of us could risk, right,
but doing this, and just saying, “Is there any
way in which our
institutional location could be useful, because none of
us wants to participate
in executing this particular ban. Right?” And
to put this in context,
it was the 50th anniversary of the desegregation
of the University of
Georgia. And so, having fought that tooth
and nail, right, the
white state establishment at the time was not patting
itself on the back very
publicly for the open access to the plantation-style
campus that was at the
heart of this, and so, using those realities,
strategically, we wanted to
know if the activists who were, in fact, risking
something, could see a use
for that. Right? But when Keish came back with,
actually the thing that would
be useful for us would be if y’all
would do this as
a civil disobedience demonstration project and actually do it
like you would do it, you
know. The fact was that this fight against
undocumented students and
racialized students was part of the whole move
to ban an entire branch
of knowledge from public universities. Right? That
while Arizona was passing
these laws, that Georgia was running along
and copying, it was also
trying to throw ethnic studies out of
its institutions of
higher learning.>>ETHAN: Right. So it wasn’t
accidental that Latinx studies
was really a focus of this. This was, in part,
what you were trying
to fight for.>>PAM: Exactly.
That American Studies
and Latinx studies, ethnic studies
generally, African
American studies, these are all branches
of human knowledge that
had to, literally, fight in the streets
for inclusion in publicly-funded
education. And so, there’s an awareness at
the, in the room where
these things happen that that knowledge is
dangerous. That knowledge,
liberatory knowledge is dangerous, and I think it’s
fair to say that no
one in the class had encountered the histories
we were collectively
constructing, presented in any fashion. Right? That that
is part of the move. And
so for us, it was really powerful to get
to participate in that
knowledge creation with people who were actively
liberating our country at
the same time.>>I want to say
that one of the effects of
having such a powerful ethnic studies professor like Lorgia
García-Peña was that not
only did we have the four of us
teaching, we had people fly
in. Marco Vermaier Velasquez, Yolanda Martina Sambiel, Achio
Vejas, I could go on
and on, Laura Gutierrez, flew in on their
own dimes, oftentimes, to give
classes at Freedom U, so arguably, we had
the best ethnicity studies
curriculum at the time. [Laughing.] Frankly, you know,
and without, you
know, no budget, essentially, when you’re
using sometimes the University
of Georgia, but these were, this was
an intellectually just over the
top stimulating kind of experience to have this
level. Junot Díaz, the
famous Junot Díaz, MIT professor, Skyped in, and Keish
got up and sort of
just went after him. [Laughing.]>>[Spanish.]>>PAM: But you know, people
were empowered
and dialoguing and this was really a magnet
for like, you said,
a kind of demonstration project
in liberatory
knowledge that lots of people
wanted to
participate in.>>ETHAN: But
I’m sure that,
please, go ahead.>>KEISH: Yeah, but I
was a student. So, like, on
the end of classroom, we are just soaking it in.
We don’t, we’re coming in
because we have said and dedicated our time into
the space. We don’t know
at what scale we’re meeting these professors. Like,
we don’t know what
their positions are, where they are in their
like legal, I mean scholarly
genealogy. We do not know these things. What
we were promised, and
this was a constant push that we still have
to do, is actually get it
accredited. So, when it was the idea was
brewing, the importance was
getting the classroom accredited, so that if we
were to, you know transfer
or go to a two-year college, a community college
or even a four-year
college, that the experience in the classroom
that we were actually
sitting on was being recognized as an actual
class, which we didn’t
still. Right? We still haven’t. And that sort
of morphed, and that
push was happening while the applications, like deadlines,
were coming up, and
we started then really pitching ideas of, “OK.
What does it mean for
us to try to apply? Because now that we
have access to professors
of a university, could they write us recommendation
letters?
Could they do this?” So these ideas were
just forming
as time went by.>>ETHAN: So, there’s
an open question about
could Freedom University turn into something that
could have accreditation, could
help people get credits that they might
be able to transfer
and bring somewhere else. You’ve built this program,
which even just in
the first seminar, is this sort of
extraordinary Latinx Studies, and
you’re doing this on Sunday
mornings, completely with
volunteer labor, at an undisclosed location,
so that the Klan,
the fucking Klan, doesn’t show up to
disrupt your activities. So, I
assume the University of Georgia was thrilled with
this and was honoring
the extra service. [Laughing.]>>ETHAN: I assume
they got rid of
some of your teaching requirements for this, Bethany or
Pam? I’ve noted that three
of the four of you are no
longer teaching at
the University of Georgia. [Laughing.]>>ETHAN:
Betina, how did UGA
react to this?>>BETINA: At the beginning,
especially
with tests, was trying to put us against
each other,
and they would go to UGA speaker
and ask them, “What do
you have to say about this?” And the answer
that the speaker gave, the
first answer was, “Our faculty can teach whatever
they want outside their
schedule and some professors teach Bible
school, and we don’t
care about that.>>PAM: Which is true.>>BETINA: Which is
true. So, they pretty
much put it in those terms and gave us, in
a way freedom, so we didn’t
need to respond to that.>>ETHAN: But
that’s not exactly
wholeheartedly embracing.>>Let’s be clear. There was
plenty of retaliation. But up
next to what other people had on the line,
in the situation, it was
not worth worrying about, honestly. And I will
say it’s important to remember
that the faculty at University of Georgia, the
student body at University
of Georgia, same at Georgia State, same
at multiple other universities
around the state, Armstrong State, voted to
resolutions against the ban
in support of Freedom U or other
actions that deal with
the larger immigrant>>BETINA: All university
councils, all university forums
have at least one resolution against the ban,
where faculty were involved
and students were involved.>>ETHAN: and public.>>PAM: An interesting thing was that the administration wouldn’t go
to the Board of Regents meetings and say these things, so
there were the GUYA activists confronting the Board of Regents without, with these sort
of cowardly administrators
not saying anything, just sitting in the
audience while younger people
took on this fight.>>BETINA: And when
we have the discussion
in UGA with the university council, we proposed
a resolution against the
ban. We have a very strong reaction against
the language that we were
using. In the first proposal, we were
using the word discrimination.
And our colleagues who were supporting Freedom
University, who were against
the ban, they reacted very badly to
the word discrimination. They
couldn’t tolerate that, and luckily, we were
able to change that
language, and the resolution passed. But I think that
speaks a lot about the
position of faculty, even when they are supporters,
how they do not
want to make connections with the past history of
the state and that creates a
lot of trouble for them.>>PAM: Although a
specialist, specifically, in the
history of living through segregation in
Georgia, was one of
our most effective collaborators, who came
and spoke and made
those connections herself, Barbara McCaskill, who
runs a stand-alone project
at UGA about the history of anti-black discrimination
at UGA had no trouble at all
making those connections.>>ETHAN: So, I want
to open this up to
the audience in a moment, but I just want to
ask one specific question to
everyone, starting with Keish. I know that
everyone who’s been
involved with Freedom University is both very
proud of it, but also
very insistent that it is not the only
intervention, maybe not always
the right intervention, that there’s a need for
a huge number of interventions
to deal with these questions of access to
education. So, Keish, you’re
very involved with PUSH at Harvard. Can you
tell us a little about that?
And then, I’d love to just go sort of down
the line and hear what each
of you is involved with right now, and maybe if
there’s anything you want to
urge us as an audience, both here and
online to get involved with,
and Pamela, when we get to you,
we’ll pull up the
website associated with you. [Laughing.]>>KEISH: I think Freedom
University as well as GUYA
are still both ongoing. Things have gotten worse,
right, in many ways? Both
of us went into different trajectories of
different institutions, at
academic institutions, pursuing different interests, but
I mean both of
us haven’t fixed our statuses yet. And, you
know, while our scale and
our network of people that we’re interacting with
and engage with are
expanding, the core issues and values are
still the same. So, for
me, currently being an American Studies — student
at Harvard, after the
recent elections, it was actually again working
closely with Lorgia García-Peña
who’s currently a faculty there. It was
her classroom where we met
after. It was actually one her, again,
one of her amazing, powerful,
undergraduate classrooms that was being held
Monday, Wednesday. So, on
Monday, before the election result, there
was a very
powerful performance, on-campus performance of students sort
of doing these murals
and decorating the John Harvard statue of
just doing these really
amazing and powerful resistance acts. And then,
we got the election result
on Tuesday, went to class, and I had went
in to be with the students,
and it was a very sorrowful moment. One, we
had to console each
other and sort of recognize each other’s
pain. And, secondly, that’s
when we started writing, drafting a letter to
our president and to our
deans of what we needed, and that
sort of became what
Protect Undocumented Students at Harvard sort of became,
and we have multiple fronts
of ask, which still have not been met,
unfortunately, and that had to
do with having an actual, a physical
location, an office that
is above ground. [Laughing.]>>KEISH: That
had actually invested money
into students, protecting undocumented students. This
meant in multiple
fronts. Now only allocating funding to support
of emergency financial aid,
not only covers DACA, but maybe other
funds. Maybe our parents
are being deported or being detained and
then deportation proceedings.
Maybe we need to help our parents sustain
themselves because our mom
and dads are detained. Right? There’s
multiple fronts where financial
need is actually needed that people do
not always recognize. There’s
always the $495 for DACA manuals, but there is
so much more that goes
beyond that. What if we had mixed that with
a lot of the students
were mixed status, or the students themselves may
have papers, but their
parents, their brothers and sisters who may not
have papers? Right? So, our
needs were not only the funding. It was not
only the legal need of
having a very radical and powerful and insistent
and stubborn attorney, a
criminal and both immigration attorney who’s
capable of pushing
certain envelopes, right, and making certain things
happen. We needed an
attorney. We needed multiple attorneys. We needed
a collection of attorneys
who’s able to do certain things. We wanted
access to mental health.
We wanted a capable mental health counselor and
therapist who’s able to
meet the needs of not only LGBTQ,
low-income, first-gen students,
but knowing various backgrounds of like what
it means to be
undocumented. So, these were some of the fronts that
we needed. We’ll actually ask
for more hiring of ethnic studies professors
and scholars. Multiple
fronts were asked.>>ETHAN: So, it’s a
huge set of needs, and
just thinking about how enormous these needs can
be and how enormous
these populations are, I was reminded when we
were sitting down over lunch,
that not only do we have the 800,000
people who’ve applied for
DACA status or been granted DACA status, we
have 1.3 million people
who are eligible. Since DACA is not currently
on the books, we have
people who would be eligible for DACA, but who
are now, sort of falling
through the cracks. And then, as you are mentioning,
you have an even larger
set of students who have mixed families, so
that students have papers,
one or both parents doesn’t have papers, and you
find students in the a
situation where, and I find this as an educator,
I have a student who will
drop off the map, and what may actually be going
on is that its student
is working full-time to keep her parents from being
deported or to figure out
what to do with the rest of the family if
parents do end up getting
deported. This whole set of needs becomes something that,
as educators, we have
a responsibility to address up ’til the point
that our government finds a
way to address this better than they’re
currently addressing this now.
Gustavo, what about you? How are you involved
with this at this point?
Do you continue to be involved with Freedom U?
Are you involved with
other parts of the movement in
New York at
this point?>>GUSTAVO: So, I’m
not really involved with
Freedom U anymore. In terms of
organizing efforts, I’ve taken
a step back. But, one of the
motivations for when I
first got involved was if I’m going to
go out, I’m going to go
out with a bang. Right? Like, I’m going to
make some damage. I’m going
to have an impact before they take me out.
And I think that has translated
into my work as a paralegal where I’m
not necessarily working with
people who are highly-skilled workers. There is
demand. Right? And they want
to bring them over. I’m working with people
who are escaping, all
kinds of violence, are escaping poverty, are
running away from these
puppet governments that the US installed and
the sacking of the resources
of their countries, and they’re coming here for a
better life. Right? They just
want to work as we all do and lead a
good life, and I think that
that’s sort of where it’s translated for me now.
Right? There are so many
immigration cases out there. There’s clean-cut ones
where there’s no
criminal record. There’s ones that are very, very complicated,
and those are the ones that
I like to work on. I like to work on
the ones that anyone who
could look at the surface details of it and
say, “No. Well, this is
not someone we want in this country,” but it’s not
so black and white. Right? So,
that’s where I am now. I eventually want to
be an immigration attorney, and
I want to keep working on this project
of, you know, like people
have rights, and people are eligible for immigration
benefits under the INA. It may
not be pretty. It may not be easy. There’s going
to be a lot of digging,
a lot of fighting, a lot of advocating for people,
but as someone who as
of this point, doesn’t really have a, or doesn’t
have a path to legalization,
my mentality is still, “I want to go out with
a bang.” And what that
means is that making sure that as many people who
can adjust, who can try
to obtain legalization do that and that’s where my
energies are now.
And I think that eventually, down the line, what I
would like to do, and one
of the biggest goals for me is to be able to influence
or write legislation that
would go into the INA. Right? That would be
more humane and not
just necessarily look at people as what kind
of economic contributions can you
make to this country, but what does this country
owe you? What does this
country owe your family? How can we repay that? And
that’s sort of the impact that
I want to have down the line.>>ETHAN: There’s a law
school about two stops away
on the red line. I’ve got some friends
over there. They often watch
these events. So, they may want to
get in touch
with you.>>GUSTAVO: Let’s talk after.>>ETHAN: They
do some pretty
good work there. Pamela, what about you?
You’re now up at
Dartmouth College, a noted
hotbed of
liberal activism. What’s your involvement
with the movement
at this point?>>PAM:
With Freedom
U?>>ETHAN: Yeah.>>PAM: I’ve, like Gustavo,
who’s being too modest, I’ve
helped a little bit with tours of students coming
through and doing educational
work at places like Smith and Hampshire.
Gustavo actually organized
a tour of Freedom U students
a couple years
back in the Pioneer Valley, and they
were able to tell people
what was going on. Freedom U is ongoing.
It’s being run now
by a woman named Laura Emiko Soltis, who’s
an absolutely fabulous job,
and Freedom U students are sort of leading
not only the undocumented
student movement in Atlanta, but are major
leads in a larger kind
of network of students who’ve done is pretty powerful
civil disobedience actions,
not only at the University of Georgia, but at
the Board of Regents. And
so, what we do at Dartmouth, which is sort of
a place that probably is
not quite where MIT is yet in terms
of undocumented admissions, is
educational work and a lot of working with
students whose parents are
in deportation hearings and getting professors to
write letters that go
to courtrooms in Georgia or Nebraska or Texas or
wherever it is that talk
about that student so that might give a judge
pause kind of thing. But
Freedom U is very much an ongoing, you know,
kind of ongoing concern
and continues to offer classes on Sundays and
SAT prep, and I really
want to encourage people to go to the website.>>ETHAN: And it’s
an organization that really
could use your support, and if we can just pull
up the website here, great. And
what’s the URL for that?>>PAM: I think it’s
www.freedomuniversitygeorgia.com
or .org maybe. There it is. There’s MIT
Professor Junot Díaz
on the Colbert Report giving his FU Georgia
T-shirt,
a sweatshirt.>>ETHAN: I was going to ask
whether the name was intentional,
but I know Bethany well enough to know that
the name absolutely
was intentional.>>BETHANY: Yes, but
all the students assumed that
we had no idea, apparently. Like, oh, those stupid adults. [Laughing.]>>ETHAN: But I’ve known you
for a really, really, long time,
and I know that FU Georgia was something
that was
probably intentional.>>We tried to argue that
we wanted
to be a freedom school to come full-circle
to the
freedom schools of the 60s,
but everyone’s like,
“But if we’re FU, we get to shout
‘FU Georgia’
at the demonstrations.”>>Which was cathartic.>>BETHANY: So anyways,
I would really encourage
people to, you know, touch base them,
to donate if
you can. As you know, most
sort of donations to 501(c)3
organizations go to the left coast and not
to the South. Some of
the most incredible political activism is going on
in the US South
with absolutely no resources. Taking students in a
van to Berea College
to interview there with admissions officers is a
$3,000 venture. $3,000 seems
like nothing at a place like MIT or Dartmouth,
but it can go so
far. Books, you know, materials, artist materials
for demonstrations, all
of that, transportation, getting people on a plane
to get to Hampshire to
do a workshop, so I really want to encourage people
if you can give to
give. Share it on social media, if you get connected
with them. Volunteer if you’re
in the Atlanta area. It really is, like we
were saying, it’s a social
movement as much as it is a single class on
Sundays now. And it’s a
social movement that grew with incredible solidarity with
people from all over
the country, people flying in, people buying
books, students organizing in
Atlanta with GUYA.>>ETHAN: I actually want
to open up at this
point before we lose some of the wonderful guests
that we have here, and
we’re going to keep going on with this conversation
both in a sort of
open Q&A here. We’re also going to move into
my space in Civic to
keep talking a little bit further on. But, let me
just open this up a
little bit. Anyone have anything you want to ask
these remarkable folks – the
students, the professors, so on and so forth?Don’t
leave me hanging her with
the question cube. You know how much I desperately
want to throw this at
people within the audience. [Laughing.]>>I thought it was some mic.>>ETHAN: Thank you, Joy.>>Thanks. Hi. I’m
Joy. I’m part of the
Center for Civic Media. Earlier you mentioned that
when you used the
word discrimination, you got push back from faculty,
and in my own
experiences of talking about issues within institutions,
language comes up so much
in terms of what people are willing to engage
with. So I was 1,
curious about how you thought about the language
based on the push back
and what language you would have wanted to use.>>ETHAN: And I’m going to
cheat just for a moment and
brag on Joy for a second. Joy is a PhD
student in my lab and
has been doing really remarkable research
demonstrating some
in-built biases in computer vision
systems, and this work
that gets very tricky because it makes
people uncomfortable. No one
likes to be called out on biases built
into systems, but it’s
incredibly important to show what these biases are
so that people have a
chance to address them and make those systems
better. So, language and
how we talk about this is something
that’s a big subject
within our lab.>>We were certainly
aware that we had
a limited number of effective scripts available to
us for the public
leveraging of this, and that one
of them was,
frankly, do-gooder, befuddled white teacher just
wants to help the
kids get books. That had an audience,
and we talked a lot
about the trade-offs involved in playing to some
of these scripts. The
stand-and-deliver script that says that there’s a category
of innocent, deserving, no
fault of their own immigrants who came here
as children who are
still effectively children and, therefore, it’s not
their fault, and it contra-ed
the sort of insistent responsiblization, the illiberal
narrative that whatever
befalls you, you have asked for it.
“Here’s one category of
people,” this narrative says, “that we can point
to and say OK, we’ll
give them special consideration. Right? And they’re real dangers.”
I think it’s true, in
general, that a lot of the Dreamer Movement
has been incredibly,
ethically rigorous about refusing that narrative
and not throwing
other undocumented immigrants under the bus
in pursuit of that particular.
I think the problem that it sounds like you’re
the expert on is how
the technology of raceless discrimination is specifically
designed to make it impossible
to call out the elephant in the room.
For me, it was very
important that we spent time with immigration history
and looked at the
ways that immigration has been specifically
structured around race.
Everyone’s been completely aware of it
at the time. The discussions
in Congress are all about how can we keep
the country white, and yet
not use the word race in this legislation. And when
they figure it out, they
all pat each other on the back, over and
over again. 1924. 1952.
1965. They’re thrilled that they figured out a
way to make sure that
quote the unwashed Hottentots will not be coming
here to take jobs from
good, wholesome Americans. I think verbatim, right, out
of the 65 debates.
So, the challenge is enormous to undo and
refuse not leave any space
for that kind of deliberate erasure of what
every knows is actually
being talked about here, and I don’t think
any of us has an
answer on that. We would probably be
coming to you
for guidance.>>ETHAN: It’s really
interesting to think about
the ways in which Freedom University
managed to
position itself, I think, very successfully
as oh my God.
Who could be against, you know, college
professors getting together
on a Sunday.>>The kids just want to learn.>>ETHAN: And
giving a chance for.
You got me. Right? I mean,
we ended up supporting
this through the disobedience prize very
much around that narrative.
What’s been so great in sort of having
you here and hearing about
this is the ways in which this was
a student-led movement
that essentially identified something that students needed
and wanted and then
were sort of able to go out and reach
out to some professors who were
willing to do it, but it was the students
identifying that this was a
missing part of the experience, a part of what
people were being denied at
that point in time.>>BETINA: I would like
to point out to another
struggle that I think youth movements also have
and, we as
organizers, organizers of Freedom University, and now
I’m in a different
organization Ulead Athens. We still have, and it’s
this idea of the good immigrant
and the bad immigrant and how these kids who want
to come to MIT are
the good immigrants, but their parents or their younger
siblings who did not pass
the AP test is the bad immigrant. So, I
think from the perspective
of the organizer or coordinator of an
organization that worked
with undocumented students, that is a big
struggle, and I think Ulead
Athens is working on going around that, just
by working with mixed
status students and working with the students
who were the last ones
in the classroom and never had an advisor
who said,
“Yes. You’re doing well.” We’re going
after particularly
that student.>>Because people
shouldn’t have to
be as extraordinary as these two people
already were at 16 and
17 and 18 in order simply to not wake
up every day with this
hang-up. God knows we weren’t. Right? This
is not about finding
just the hyper-qualified, incredible stand-out human
being and the people
who built this movement are very
clear that it’s
not about that.>>You do not
need to be super-stellar
to go to college.>>Just to clarify, and
you can add on, we
weren’t, I wasn’t either. The process of
at least for me,
I know my process even more, my
access to my undergraduate
degree which was a Syracuse University, another
private institution, was
actually a very strong and powerful
network of transnational
feminists, trans– poly– there within the party
who are pushing their
administrators to open up a private fund, a grant,
a private grant. So, these
are happening in multiple levels. Right? We’re not
only pushing for policies
against, like in the public space. It’s also
happening back doors too. So
like, it really, really means a lot for like
administrators, faculties to
gather up a coalition to come up with funding
to support students if
your institution doesn’t publicly allow undocumented
students to come
through, so just recognizing that is
really, really important, and
advocating for students who does not have the
4.0 GPA, who does not
have the perfect SAT score. I wasn’t that student,
but I had people who were
advocating and advocating for me.>>ETHAN: So, I’m going to come
back to
that question about what universities can do around
this, and I’m
going to put some of our friends from
the admissions office on the
spot, but let me just give you
a chance to ask
a question here.>>There’s a warning label on the
bottom of this that says I
should read the user manual before using it, and I
want to be
clear that I haven’t read the
user manua
l for the microphone box. [Laughing.]>>ETHAN: This is the media
lab. None of us have ever
read a user manual ever. It’s actually forbidden
within>>They write
the user manuals.>>My name is Grif.
I want to thank each
of you for being here. It’s so clear that you have a lot
to teach folks
who are looking to support undocumented students,
but it’s also clear,
listening to each of you that you have so much
to teach folks working
in higher education and universities across the
board, and listening
to you speak about the ways that
learning needs to be found
in solidarity with the labor that it’s
supporting, learning through
building relationships with drivers, the way you talked
about co-constructing
curriculum, embracing learning as a political
act. You were mentioning
earlier that you didn’t know where the professors
were on their scholarly
journey because they were treating you like
people. I mean, there’s so
much that you talked a bout that just seems
like every university in this
country is failing at. And so, I’d just like
to hear from the perspective
of faculty who have been affiliated with big
universities and also students
who probably grew up with an understanding
of what university was. What
are some of the lessons that really every
university should be trying to
take from your experience?>>ETHAN: Well, I’m
actually going to merge
that into a question that I’m going to
throw to my friend Jessica,
which is I’m going to ask her to just
talk sort of briefly about what
MIT is doing well around this, and then maybe turn
this into an open question
about what we feel like the universities that we
know and love, whether we’re
at them now or whether a proud Hampshire
grad, what these can be
doing to sort of transform and work in
solidarity with this movement.
But Jessica, I’m going to ask you first if
you can. So, that was a
high hard one there that was. I more lobbed what
I was going to Joy, but
it’s hard when you’re sitting.>>JESSICA: Do I speak into?>>ETHAN: Just speak.>>JESSICA: Hi. I’m Jessica
from the MIT admissions office,
and first I just want to thank all of you
for sharing your experiences
and stories. They are incredibly humbling and
inspiring for all of us to hear,
so I do want to thank you all. As for
what we’re doing at MIT, MIT
is one of the five schools in the
country that offers
need-blind admissions, need-based financial aid, and
full-need financial aid to
students regardless of citizenship. Again, that’s one
of five in this
country. There are other private institutions. Some
of the institutions you
all named. Private institutions, some state
institutions that will provide
financial aid to undocumented students or
a DACAmented student, but
the rules around this are pretty inconsistent. It
can be really hard to
navigate and find this information. So, as you
can imagine, there are a
lot of questions that undocumented students have
to think about that
other students don’t have to think about
as they’re navigating the
college application process. So, the media lab has
collaborated with us over the
last few months to think about ways that
we can mobilize resources
at MIT and around Boston to serve local
undocumented students. Obviously,
Boston is a place that’s really rich
in educational resources. There
are so many educational institutions in the
area. So, we’ve been
trying to think about how can we, how can
we serve this population here
in Boston and in the greater Boston area. Some of
the broad goals that I
have for the work that we’re doing together
is to mobilize resources at
MIT, to build a network in the greater
Boston area, and to
boost visibility around these movements and these
resources. So, we’ve been
collaborating with local organizations like the
Student Immigrant Movement, which
is a activist organization that serves
undocumented students in
local high schools. We’ve been working with
Unafraid Educators, which is
a part of the Boston Teachers’ Union,
which mobilized educators
to support undocumented students. A
program that we’re putting
on, or working with the Boston Teachers’
Union to put on,
is a guidance counselor training. They’re hosting
a day-long training
for their guidance counselors in Boston public
schools. We’re working with
them to host a discussion and panel
around serving undocumented
students, working with an immigration to
talk about what are
the options for students, working with guidance
counselors and student activists
to talk about their journeys through the,
through education and what
are the options for students, and
increasing some visibility
around these issues, knowledge around these
issues, so that those
guidance counselors are then better-empowered to
work with the students
in their schools.>>ETHAN: And sort of
three big ideas came up
when we were talking earlier today. One was
looking at guidance counselors
a real point of impact on this. It was
really interesting to hear both
of you sort of talk about not getting
terrific guidance from you
high school guidance counselors about where to go
and sort of how to
go with this. A second point, and I thought this
was particularly interesting,
is that Chris Peterson, a friend of many
of ours in this room,
talks about the fact that he often ends
up seeing applications
from people, sometimes undocumented, sometimes similarly
students who just
didn’t have as much of a chance in
high school as some of
us did, who clearly would be right for MIT had
they taken the classes they
needed to get into a place like MIT. And
so there becomes this
really interesting challenge of for those of us
here who are grad students,
for those who are undergrads, is there a way
that we could be involved
in sort of reaching out to populations who
could have the opportunity to
be here, have this amazing opportunity to be here,
need-blind, citizenship-blind,
if they had the qualifications. And then the
third that I was really
blown away by was this realization that in
the same way that
your movement was building everything from Teamsters trying
to figure out how
to drive people there to people protecting and
people thinking about, but
lawyers. We need lawyers. We need to
help support students and
their families when they’re going through these
issues, even if the
students are fully documented, but their in
a mixed family, that
becomes, imagine the level of stress if you find yourself
simultaneously trying
to manage an MIT course load and possibly
being the only person
in your house who’s bilingual, helping your parents
try to figure out how to
stay in the country. For all of you, and
we’ll have this as the
last question, what should universities be doing more of?
What can we do better
at MIT, and what can we push other universities
that we love and care about to
do better on on this issue?>>GUSTAVO: I think probably
the thing that I haven’t
seen, because, you know, I’ve seen schools
add another tap on
their website that’s information for
undocumented students. Right?
And the way that I see
it, there’s two sides. One
side is the undocumented students looking to go
to college. The other
one is the universities. Right? And there’s a
few universities that say,
“Yeah. We have some resources, but,” and something
you had asked earlier
like, who could be against students learning. Right?
You’d be surprised. A
lot of people. A lot of people can be
against that and are against
that, and that shows, between those two sides,
those are the people
that are blocking access to those resources, and
so I think more so than
just adding another tab, more so than just creating
a pamphlet, I think you
need to be actively recruiting undocumented students
because the same
way that you actively recruit other students
who have a breadth
of knowledge based on their lived experiences,
we also have something
to contribute, and going back to your
question about the biases
that are written inherently into the system, I
think that’s where these
knowledges, these systems of knowledge that we have
derived from our lived
experiences from our contacts, not just with
government, but with state
institutions of all kinds, I think we can
bring those into this place,
and we can make good things with it. But, I
think, again, you need to be
able to step above and step beyond those people
that are trying to block
the access by actively recruiting and being public
about it, because not a
lot of places are public about their
admissions policies when it
comes to undocumented students and when it comes
to financial aid. And so
I think that once you become more visible to
the students who are already
taking huge risk by becoming visible themselves I
think that’s the very first step
that you can take.>>KEISH: Completely agree.
That’s so important. That
is so important. I the that’s what
lacking at Harvard. Honestly
though, the is a really interesting audience for
me to speak to
because oftentimes, the things that we have to
highlight is, I mean we are
already in, I’m part of Harvard, and we’re at MIT.
It’s already a very prestigious.
You guys have a lot of funding and
we’re oftentimes talking to
community college, like students who can’t even
go to afford community
college. So, recognizing that. Recognizing that. Right?
Recognizing that. I think
Gustavo’s point is really, really important
for these — institutions
and private institutions who do have the funding
to step it up. So, one
thing, one sad thing to recognize is that once
Nancy Cantor, the Syracuse
chancellor left, and we had an
administrator change, they
stopped funding undocumented students. So, they
stopped receiving undocumented
students through their private grant. So,
that’s another avenue that’s been
closed. And a lot of the things that I
pushed while I was there was
to go public, but there was resistance to that.
So, recognizing, and also
recognizing the labor of Lorgia, who’s not here, and
all the faculties who are
here, there was a lot of risks, a lot of labor,
a lot of time that they
put in on top of their obligation, as the only
Ethnic Studies professor at
UGA. The only woman of color. One of the
few who have like how
many students that they’re advising that they had
opened up their space to
dedicate their time to make a space for
Freedom University. I think that
needs to happen at MIT. I think that needs
to happen at Harvard. I think
there needs to be a step up of investment,
a coalition building, and a
little bit more of courage to contest and to
stop telling us what the
rules of how complex these bureaucratic and
academic institutions and red
tapes are. We already know
that there are
red tapes. [Laughing.]>>KEISH: We’re asking
you to step up.
Administrators need to step up. Students and grad students
need to step up. I think
one of the most disheartening things that I’ve actually
experienced organizing at Harvard
has been this constant separation
between undergraduates and
graduate students. So, undocumented students.
I’m still undocumented. I’m
in the graduate program, but there’s
been a constant separation
between the investment within the needs
of undergraduate students and
graduate students, and our needs are different,
but they’re still the same.
Like, what does it mean to bring
in undocumented students as
graduate students? What does it mean for
them to be teaching fellows
when they don’t have DACA?These questions need
to be asked and
the only ways you’re going to get answers on
the inside is as Gustavo
says. Center and invite undocumented students and
actually hear what their
needs are and advocating
for
them.>>GUSTAVO: Is there still a
lot of anxieties
that even someone who might have the
perfect GPA
and might have the extracurriculars. There’s a lot
of anxiety because you
just don’t know. You don’t know. And I
think that part of being
public would also work on this other front that I think
has been very, very lacking,
and I don’t know if people have actually thought
about it or brought it
up, but shaming these other institutions into coming
and living in the
present, right, not staying in the past, not staying
in this way of thinking
where OK education still needs to be segregated
somehow because that makes
us feel like we still have power over the
systems that be. Right? And
I think that a place like MIT, with the clout that
it has, and if it starts
being public, and if it starts actively recruiting
undocumented students, I think
that can also have a domino effect
or a shaming effect
upon these other big institutions to step it
up themselves because if
there’s anything that I learned about higher education is
that no institution wants to
fall behind another institution.>>ETHAN: So, one of the things
we talked about a little bit over
lunch was the ways in which MIT will often
do things right,
but very quietly. And this is a
place where we’re doing
things right. We are by being need-blind
and by being citizenship-blind,
that’s the right step. We need to go a step
further, and we need to be
open and affirming about this. I will openly
affirm that I
welcome and encourage undocumented students to apply
to my group here at
the media lab. I hope that others will do
that as well. But beyond
that, this is something that we as MIT should
have a lot of pride
in. We should actually be talking up and actively
recruiting around on
a bunch of different>>I think all of us who inhabit
more secure positions
in these institutions need to help shift the
perspective and make clear that
there is not a neutral space. When what
you’re seeing, people like
y’all, are carrying the brunt of 40 years
of deliberate constriction of
access to higher education in this country,
and you can either
counteract that process, or you can simply shrug
your shoulders and enable
it. But there’s not actually, there’s no moment
where it holds still.
This was a deliberate political move to make
it harder for that
vast expansion of education. Everyone had a full ride
in California in 1960 if
they could get into college. Right? And that’s
no longer how we do
that because it stopped being simply available to
white Americans, and that
was a moment where it started to contract.
And any of us who
work in these institutions owe it to the people
who are taking the heat
to figure out where our institution is in that history
and what steps we can take
from within to counteract that.>>ETHAN: I’m going to
give the last word to Betina,
and then we’re going to welcome anyone who
wants to stick
around. We’re going to go and have a smaller
discussion over in my space
in Civic. But Betina, please.>>BETINA: Yeah. I just want to
support what
Gustavo and Keish were saying, and I want to add
to that
that undocumented students are not a risk
for an institution. They are
the best. They bring in a lot of experience, and
they turn out staying in
college. In Ulead Athens, we had helped around 50
students to get into college.
From those 50, as far as I know, only
one left. All of them are
in school. They are continuing struggling. Some are them
are taking two classes
per semester, three classes per semester. But,
they don’t withdraw, and
I think that is something that all colleges
need to have into
account. They are more secure than other students
that might not finish, might
not end up graduating.>>ETHAN: So, I just want
to thank my guests for coming
out, talking about these issues. I just want to congratulate
you all for the incredible work
that Freedom University has done. I want to thank
everyone who came out
of the audience, everyone who’s watching us
online. We’re going to
continue this conversation. We’re hoping to have
a very practical conversation
about what we can do better here in
Boston for people who are
still engaged with us. Come on over to the
Civic space. We’ll be there
in a couple of minutes, but thank you all
for coming out and
being part of this.