Just 5 to 10 percent of undocumented students pursue higher education and even fewer graduate with an advanced degree, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Basti Lopez de la Luz, graduate student in the M.A. in Leadership Development program, wants to change that. Lopez de la Luz is the organizer behind Chapman University’s first Undocumented Student Conference on Saturday, September 28.
“I know I am not the first undocumented student at Chapman University, and I will not be the last,” says Lopez de la Luz, “That is why I share these experiences, in hope of encouraging students like myself.”
Working in partnership with diverse groups including the Cross-Cultural Center, Latinx and Latin American Studies, the Latinx Staff and Faculty Forum, the Undocumented Student Issues Forum and the University of California Irvine Dream Center, Lopez de la Luz and a team of dedicated volunteers made the conference a reality.
Lopez de la Luz has experienced first-hand the struggle of undocumented students. As an undocumented student at Santa Ana College in 2012, she learned about DACA, realized she met the requirements and successfully applied. As a DACA student, she was able to transfer to UCI to complete her bachelors degree. Now, Lopez de la Luz works at Santa Ana College in the division of Academic Affairs serving underrepresented students and making college courses accessible to high school students.
Still, there are challenges with her DACA status. “Having to advocate for myself and educate staff about my status puts me in a constant state of vulnerability,” says Lopez de la Luz. “You have to constantly know your rights and advocate for yourself because filling out a form incorrectly can cause you to be classified as an international student and pay a higher tuition rate.”
The Undocumented Student Conference
The Undocumented Student Conference will highlight the experiences of undocumented students while asking tough questions about how private universities can make higher education accessible to undocumented students. Lopez de la Luz also hopes to help other undocumented students understand how to access resources that can help them complete their studies.
“I want to invite all regardless of their status to attend because it will give participants a glimpse of the accomplishments of undocumented students,” says Lopez de la Luz. “This conference will also serve as ally-training and give everyone an opportunity to be inspired by educated, strong, resilient undocumented folks and to remind one another that we are here to stay.”
“The conference is bringing on- and off-campus partners together to build community,” says Justin Koppelman, associate director of student engagement, “we’re committed to develop strategies to further meet the needs of undocumented students and their families.”
Chapman’s first Undocumented Students Conference is made possible by support from the following groups: Department of Peace Studies, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.