Organizing for Undocumented Students' Rights: Who Has Access to Smith College?

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Veronica Brown '17 Assistant News Editor

As the Admissions Office sorts through over 5,000 applications for the class of 2019, the student group Organizing for Undocumented Students’ Rights continues to work towards making Smith a reality for undocumented students.

Although undocumented students apply to Smith every year, they are considered in the international student pool and not the regular applicant pool, despite the fact that many have lived in the United States for much or all of their lives.

An applicant in the domestic pool has considerable advantages over an international applicant. Smith has an overall acceptance rate of 43 percent, but that figure drops to around 10 percent for international students. Additionally, U.S. citizens and permanent residents have the option to not submit standardized test scores, while international applicants must include SAT or TOEFL scores.

Perhaps most importantly, the admissions process for international applicants is explicitly need-conscious, meaning the college can reject an applicant based on their inability to pay full tuition.

Ariana Quinones ’16, a member of OUSR, points out that many international applicants come from backgrounds of considerable means and competitive high schools, whereas undocumented students “don’t have the same resources [and therefore] don’t get to be part of that elite group.”

Dean of Admission Deb Shaver of Smith College, explains the college’s official stance: “Undocumented students are considered in our international pool because they are international citizens.  The Board of Admission is currently reviewing this issue at the request of President McCartney.”

Alyssa Flores ’16 and the rest of OUSR are currently “working with the administration to figure out a way to reevaluate and readjust the admissions policy.”

“Because we were having these conversations, President McCartney decided it was time to bring this up [to the Board of Admission]” Rachel Klinger ’15 added.

The organization has four main goals outlined on their Facebook page: “We are asking that undocumented students be included in Smith’s non-discrimination policy, be provided with clear guidelines as to how to apply, be considered domestic students” and “that Smith create a fund specifically for undocumented students.”

Movement towards the last goal has begun through alumnae initiative. Numerous donations recently completed an Indiegogo campaign of $10,000 to begin a scholarship fund to assist undocumented students. Undocumented residents are unable to receive federal financial aid from the government.

Freedom University, located in Atlanta, Ga., states that its mission is to “provide rigorous college-level classes, scholarship assistance and leadership development for undocumented students.” A group of universities founded Freedom University after Georgia passed laws in 2011 that ban students from attending the state’s top five universities and prevents undocumented students in Georgia from qualifying for in-state tuition rates at any state school.

Professor Jennifer Guglielmo got involved after hearing students visiting from Freedom University speak at Smith during the fall semester. Flores explained that the combination of faculty, administrative and alumni support “helped us focus and come up with ideas to actually execute our demands.”

Quinones has worked on “researching other schools and how they’ve made it possible… to show the administration that it is possible.”  In 2012, an endowment to Hampshire College allowed the school to set up a scholarship to provide over $25,000 of financial aid a year to undocumented students. Hampshire also has an Immigration Solidarity Network, and Mount Holyoke students recently formed an organization to work on making their college more accessible to undocumented students.

Although OUSR focuses on undocumented students gaining access to Smith, they do not want to limit the scope of their work. Klinger points out the group is “working in coalition with Q&A,” which has recently campaigned for changes to Smith admissions policies regarding transgender applicants.

The members characterize their initiative as an “ongoing process” without a definitive endpoint. The group would also like to work on providing undocumented students with the resources to continue to thrive after matriculation.