Notre Dame expressed its change in policy towards undocumented students that amplified the conversation about immigration among students and faculty in a statement on August 22, 2013. Faculty, especially in the Institute for Latino Studies, have been involved for years in efforts to better serve the immigrant students at Notre Dame, and now several student groups are joining in their work to confront these issues for themselves.
As Timothy Matovina, Professor of Theology and Executive Director of the Institute for Latino Studies, explained, “The goal of every student, every faculty member, should be to leave Notre Dame better than we found it. And that should be in every aspect of this Catholic university…and in the mission of addressing diversity. We as teachers let you students down if we don’t give you opportunities to broaden your horizons, and that’s why we have a movement toward immigration and, more generally, diversity here at Notre Dame.”
In his 14 years at Notre Dame, Matovina has observed strong efforts by the university to be more open to a larger demographic, but he cites the need to make greater efforts to accommodate students from working-class, immigrant families. Often at Freshman Orientation, these students are without the resources to go off campus to buy furniture, food or warmer clothes; the same is true for items like football tickets.
Matovina above all emphasized that at Notre Dame, immigrant students are not accepted “to fill a quota.” All students admitted to Notre Dame have superior academic, athletic, artistic or leadership abilities.
Student groups have also recently become very involved in immigration. Founded in 2013, the Student Coalition for Immigrant Advocacy (SCIA), led by junior Juan Rangel, has made efforts to address the changing policies of the university towards immigrants, especially the undocumented. SCIA was founded after a visit to Notre Dame by Cardinal Roger Mahony in October 2011 in an effort to bring Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross together for events and projects concerning immigration.
SCIA works closely with the Center for Social Concerns, the Institute for Latino Studies, the Progressive Student Alliance, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA) and the College Democrats. Its main goals are to promote educational resources on immigration and participate in political advocacy. Rangel explained that many services for students are still needed, including “legal help, someone to turn to, or if they are facing concerns on campus, or want to get more information…Even before they arrive.”
Rangel also proposed “training admissions staff” to pay more attention to this population in their high school visits, “so that students around the country know that this is an option.”
Matovina and Rangel are working together to partner Notre Dame students with high school students at St. Anthony High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, “to encourage more Latino students to apply and be accepted to private universities and possibly Notre Dame,” Rangel said. The hope is to have Notre Dame students act as mentors to promising Latino students to guide them through the college application process. Often, their parents cannot navigate the all-English system.
SCIA was also responsible for organizing the NDream Immigration Celebration rally on October 4, 2013. University President Father John Jenkins, CSC, and student body president Alexander Coccia spoke on the policy to accept undocumented students and the importance of offering undocumented students the full benefits of Notre Dame’s financial aid.
On the other side of the issue, Mark Gianfalla, president of the College Republicans, told the Rover, “We are in slight opposition to the university’s position. For a while it’s been a taboo subject in the Republican Party.”
He expressed some concern that Student Government is taking a partisan, left-leaning stance on this issue.
“A lot of students are still very apprehensive to the fact that Notre Dame is admitting undocumented students. There is a loud outspoken minority, however, that makes their point very well known,” Gianfalla explained. The College Republicans have not yet hosted events concerning immigration, but they hope to focus more on the issue as the Republican Party defines their stance more clearly.
SCIA, in conjunction with other groups, is hosting Immigration Week from February 24-28. The schedule includes cultural awareness events, a debate between College Democrats and College Republicans, political advocacy, service work at La Casa de Amistad in South Bend and a Mass. These events serve as a prelude to a conference held at Notre Dame from March 2-5, “The Church and Immigration.”
Father Jenkins will introduce the conference, which will include talks by Dr. Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa, an undocumented migrant farm worker turned leading brain surgeon at Johns Hopkins; Guatemalan Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini; and Nancy Foner, who will compare immigration past and present.
John VanBerkum is a sophomore political science and philosophy major living in O’Neill Hall. Contact him with comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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