UNIDOS club hopes to provide safe space for undocumented students

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May 02, 2017

Halle Thornton

hthornto@uccs.edu

Some students face challenges in getting the resources that they need to be successful. But dreamers, undocumented students who have lived in the U.S. since birth, may have a more difficult time, according to Nayda Benitez.

In February, Benitez, a junior sociology major, started UNIDOS (“united” in Spanish), a club for undocumented students.

“For us, we recognized that it was not only timely to create an organization to reach out to students, but it was necessary,” she said.

The club held an immigration information panel on April 14, where a panel of students answered questions about being undocumented college students and shared their experiences. The panel was night one of a three-part event that focuses on immigration rights and perspectives.

About 115 people attended the event, said Benitez, who serves as president of the club.

Once the club had elected officers and grew in membership, Benitez decided that they should host events immediately.

“We didn’t want to wait around. With the undocumented community and our families especially, it’s a leisure to wait around,” she said.

Benitez said that she hopes the club will provide a safe space and a place to get resources and help, which she had trouble finding as a first-generation freshman – an important reason as to why she started the club.

First-generation students, meaning those who are the first in their family to become a citizen in a new country outside of their native birthplace, can have a more difficult time obtaining the resources they need, according to Benitez.

“For first-generation students, people get help at the financial aid office and the scholarship office, but it was different for me; they didn’t really know what to tell me,” said Benitez.

Through UNIDOS, Benitez wishes to focus on education, communication and advocacy.

When Benitez realized she could start a club of her own and try and help people with her same problem, she began the process.

According to Benitez, the most difficult part of starting the club was getting people to open up about their immigration status, because it is something people usually do not feel comfortable talking about.

“It’s something personal and not something you go around asking people about, and only a select few people on campus have that information,” she said.

The club meets weekly on Wednesday at 5 p.m. in UC 303, acting as a space for people to feel accepted and comfortable.

“We console each other, and that support system is so important,” said Benitez.

People come to meetings to get a better understanding of the club itself. During one meeting, the club had a crash course in terminology, like “dreamer,” to help people better understand the undocumented community.

According to Benitez, UCCS is making progress when it comes to helping undocumented students; some offices refer students to the UNIDOS club for help now as well.

“There is a specific contact in financial aid that is more informed and well-versed on things like this, but we still lack as a university, a formal system and training for this,” said Benitez.

“If we’re a campus committed to inclusivity and diversity, dreamers have to be a part of that.”

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