SIP 5.2 Supporting Undocumented Students

SIPpicDACAThirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

Sometimes the best instructional practices have nothing to do with content delivery or methodological design, but instead focus on creating a classroom environment in which students can feel safe enough to fully participate in the educational enterprise.   President Jordan has been a leader in supporting higher education for undocumented students and has given voice to MSU Denver’s values regarding support for this population, but threats to the wellbeing of our students and their families still exist. These threats can lead to feelings of marginalization and insecurity that can undermine the classroom as a safe learning environment.

What does it mean to be “undocumented,” how do undocumented students fit in at MSU Denver, and how can we best make our classrooms welcoming and effectives spaces for our undocumented students?

Take a SIP of This: Supporting Undocumented Students

Understanding undocumented students starts with knowing what it means to be undocumented in higher education.  Here are some vocabulary words that can help you to have a conversation around the topic:

Undocumented:  this refers to people who don’t have the legal documents necessary to prove that they can legally live or work in a given country.

  • DACA:  This stands for “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.”  DACA is an immigration policy that allows children who came into the country without legal documents to apply for a two-year, renewable permission to work and attend school without threat of deportation.  This legislation was enacted by President Obama in 2012 and is a policy that may not be continued under the new administration.
  • The ASSET Bill:  ASSET stands for “Advancing Students for a Stronger Tomorrow” and is Colorado legislation that allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities in Colorado if they meet certain requirements.  MSU Denver, led by Dr. Jordan, was a key stakeholder in the 2013 passage of this legislation.  Governor Hickenlooper signed the bill right here on our campus!
  • DREAM Act:  DREAM stands for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors and is proposed legislation that has not passed yet.  The DREAM Act proposes a path to citizenship through education and/or military service to the country.  People who wish to pursue citizenship through this avenue are called “DREAMers.”

Throughout his tenure at MSU Denver, President Jordan has been a staunch supporter of our undocumented students.  He, along with about 600 other university presidents, signed the “Pomona Letter” in which they pledged to continue to support undocumented students following the 2016 presidential election.  Dr. J also explicitly declared MSU Denver’s commitment to continued support of undocumented students in an op-ed piece in the Denver Post.  President Jordan’s efforts and a well recognized favorable climate on our campus have led to MSU Denver having the highest number of undocumented students in any institution in the state of Colorado (as of Fall 2016 census, there were 422 undocumented students at MSU Denver, and of those approximately 340 were ASSET students.  This accounts for about 56% of all undocumented students in the state!).

So how can we best serve the undocumented students we have at MSU Denver?

  • Recognize and respect that undocumented students may not voluntarily disclose their citizenship status.  Make sure to be inclusive in words and actions in your classroom or other campus settings, but don’t call out anyone on an identity that they may not want to share publicly.  Reassure students that federal laws and MSU Denver policies safeguard their educational records and privacy.  For example, bring attention to resources in general terms, without using names or pointing out specific students:  “For anyone in the class who is undocumented or supporting undocumented peers, there will be an information session in the Tivoli at noon.”
  • Understand that undocumented students are not eligible for federal financial aid—but they ARE eligible for institutional aid at MSU Denver.  In order to assist students whose families may feel uncomfortable filling out the FAFSA (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, for which undocumented students do not qualify), MSU Denver has created an internal application called the DAIA (DREAMers Application for Institutional Aid).  Undocumented students should be encouraged to fill out the DAIA in order to be eligible for MSU Denver institutional scholarship aid.
  • Respect the fact that undocumented status creates a heavy emotional burden for a student—a burden that they carry while performing all of their other scholarly and social activities.  This weight may be alleviated in part by finding support in peer groups with similar challenges.  The “Auraria DREAMers” have a Facebook page that is open to the public.  A private/anonymous subgroup of this organization, the Undocommittee, often communicates through this Facebook page.  If you make it a regular practice to encourage engagement on campus by talking about different types of student organizations in your class, you can discuss or even show the Auraria DREAMers site without calling special attention to the students who might want to view or  subscribe.
  • Family is often a great support system for our undocumented students as well, so involve family as much as possible/appropriate in your support of our students.  Perhaps invite parents or other family members to a showcase of student work at the end of the semester, or even encourage family members to “shadow” their students and learn about what goes on at school.  This practice, like most equity-minded pedagogies, could benefit all of our students!  The more that MSU Denver feels familiar and safe to students and their families, the better their educational experience will be.

Whenever in doubt, remember three important things:  first, we are all here to support ALL of our students as they work toward the goal of achieving a college education.  And second, if you don’t know what to do or say, just ask!  It is much easier to meet an expressed need than to guess at what might be helpful.  Finally, don’t give advice if you are not sure that it is correct—reach out to the many resources on and off campus that can help to accurately guide your students down the best path.

Still Thirsty? Take Another SIP of Supporting Undocumented Students

  1. Make sure to visit the “DREAMer Zone” of the Immigrant Services website.  In addition to more information on undocumented students, you will find a description of the “Undocupeers” training.  This four-hour program is available to campus units at MSU Denver and provides concrete professional development around supporting this population.
  2. On campus, the Casa Mayan has been doing a lot of work to support undocumented students.
  3. In his postelection message, President Jordan emphasized that “nothing in the national election changes MSU Denver’s commitment to its core values of community, access, diversity and respect, nor does it change our commitment to support all members of our community.” This document is meant to provide further guidance and support to our students and staff.
  4. Click here for information on a scholarship offered by Microsoft specifically for undocumented students
  5. Undocumented students and other immigrants may want legal information regarding their rights.  Documents like this one can help with some answers.
  6. Many people wonder what to do if DACA is repealed. Here are some tips from, the first and largest immigrant youth-led organization in the nation.
  7. Local school districts are also thinking about these issues. Click here to view Denver Public Schools’

** These resources are informational only, and do not constitute legal advice **


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  1. Great article and information. Thank you. Chris

    1. Much agreed. Thanks for the information. Look forward to future articles and/or posts. Dave.

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