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Hampshire College to offer financial support to undocumented immigrants



Laste modified: Thursday, August 23, 2012
AMHERST - Hampshire College has created an endowment for students not eligible for loans or federal grants because they are undocumented immigrants.

The college has raised $350,000 from students, alumni, parents and donors, and the first undocumented student drawing on the endowment will arrive on campus next month, said Margaret Cerullo, a professor who organized the campaign.

"The issues touched a strong chord," she said. "Students and alums know how much their education cost and believe it should be accessible to everyone, not just those with family money. Parents recognized the unfairness of their children being able to have a first-rate education and other children not, due to economic circumstances or citizenship status."

Cerullo declined to discuss the student who will be receiving assistance from the endowment this fall, citing a continued threat to him or her from immigration authorities. The student will receive $25,000 in assistance each year for four years, to supplement merit-based awards that Hampshire provides, she said.

The college hopes to increase the endowment to $1 million, to enable it to make the same commitment to an incoming student every year, she said.

Hampshire's new endowment has sparked movements to create similar programs at Smith and Mount Holyoke colleges, as well as at Guilford College in North Carolina, Cerullo said.

"I felt it was unconscionable that Hampshire encourages social engagement and students are involved with these issues, such as working as paralegals and studying the immigration movement, but we couldn't have undocumented students," she said. "That seemed completely contradictory and unjust."

Many alumni responded to the appeal with donations that included the message that the drive had made them feel proud of Hampshire, Cerullo said. There were many small donations, several pledges of $5,000 a year for four years, and one contribution of $250,000, she said.

Cerullo teaches courses in social movements, political theory and feminism, and will teach one this year on the Occupy Wall Street protests. Last year, she co-taught a course called "People Out of Place" about leaving one's native country.

But she got her own education in the politics of immigration last spring when she discovered the problem of financing the education of undocumented students while talking to Hampshire admissions officials, she said.

Cerullo said she was shocked to learn that 65,000 undocumented students graduate from U.S. high schools every year. Many discover their undocumented status only when they apply to college and can't get government-financed loans or grants, or when they apply for a driver's license, because their parents keep the information from them to avoid the stigma, she said.

She learned how much she didn't know when she offered to donate some of her frequent-flier miles to enable undocumented students who had been accepted at Hampshire to visit the campus last spring. For many, boarding an airplane can be dangerous because the act itself can alert immigration authorities, she said.

Cerullo was also influenced by Hampshire student Jamie Blair, who last year did her senior project on an immigrant rights project in Chicago.

"She participated in the actions organized by immigrant youth, public protests and civil disobedience to call attention to their status and refuse the condition of living in fear and shame," Cerullo said. "Her thesis documented the emergence of this movement and captured my interest. Together, we worked to raise the issues facing undocumented immigrant youth on campus."

The U.S. is a nation of immigrants, she said, including her grandparents. When Cerullo attended the University of Pennsylvania on a full scholarship, her parents' contribution was only $5 a week, she said.

"I am of a generation that grew up believing higher education was a right, not a privilege, and of course key to the American dream of upward mobility," she said. "My generation and those who came after us were part of a vast expansion of higher education to the working classes and the poor."

Hampshire is publicly embracing the campaign to help undocumented students finance their education, and is encouraging other colleges to follow suit, Cerullo said.

"Those of us who value a Hampshire education are committed to its becoming accessible to more than privileged students, privileged either economically or in terms of citizenship status," she wrote in her appeal to donors.