Thursday, February 08, 2024

Texas SB 17 bans DEI in colleges. So why did UT end a program for undocumented students?

The Monarch program serving undocumented students was mercilessly shut down. The concern is that closing down this program may constitute an instance of over-implemented of Senate Bill 17 (Texas' anti-diversity bill at UT). 

After all, as expressed by LDF attorney Antonio Ingram, "Undocumented status is not a racial category; it's not a category that's gender identity, orientation."

-Angela Valenzuela

Texas SB 17 bans DEI in colleges. So why did UT end a program for undocumented students?

Lily Kepner
January 25, 2024 | Austin American Statesman

The University of Texas has ended a program that provided resources to undocumented students and to those who have mixed or temporary residency status to help support their academic success and graduation.

Though the university did not respond to American-Statesman requests for comment, a school employee confirmed the program's closure at a Jan. 18 UT Staff Council meeting and a student who participated in the Monarch Student Program also confirmed it ended.

The Monarch Program's closing has not been publicly addressed by the university, but at a Staff Council meeting, LaToya Smith, vice president of the UT Campus and Community Engagement Division, told staff that "we were informed that we would have to cease operating that particular program."

Smith went on to detail numerous other changes during the meeting that the university is taking to comply with Senate Bill 17, a new state law that prohibits diversity, equity and inclusion offices or initiatives at Texas public universities and colleges. As part of its compliance, the school has renamed or eliminated several of its campus programs that have long encouraged and welcomed students from diverse backgrounds.

"It's important for you all to know is that the dust has not settled," Smith told staff at the meeting.

SB 17, which went into effect Jan. 1, bans public institutions of higher education from having DEI offices, considering diversity statements in hiring or "conducting trainings, programs and activities designed or implemented in reference to race, color, ethnicity, gender identity, or sexual orientation." It prohibits these institutions from offering a "special benefit" or promoting differential treatment to individuals on the basis of race, color or ethnicity.

The law, however, does not address a student's legal status.

Impact of SB 17?

Emily Sydnor, a political science associate professor specializing in political communication at Southwestern University, a private school in Georgetown, said the program likely was shuttered because of the way an undocumented status might intersect with race and ethnicity.

"Undocumented students also might benefit from programs focused on diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging around those specific demographic characteristics, and there is also likely a set that don't fall into that category," Sydnor said. "And I guess the question that I would have is how much of those two circles overlap in this case? And what's the threshold for the Legislature to decide when a program is sort of encompassed entirely by that race, gender ethnicity circle and when is it sort of a marginal overlap that means the program should get to move forward anyway?"

Though in her personal opinion being undocumented does not have an inherent connection to race and ethnicity, Sydnor said she can imagine that a stringent legislative analysis of SB 17 could suggest the program could be affected.

Antonio Ingram, assistant council at the Legal Defense Fund, a national racial justice organization that advocated against SB 17, said the program's closing is "highly surprising."

SB 17 bans any unit that performs the functions of a DEI office, Ingram said, but the law also states that none of the restrictions should be construed to affect "a policy, practice, procedure, program, or activity to enhance student academic achievement or postgraduate outcomes that is designed and implemented without regard to race, sex, color, or ethnicity."

"You can be a white undocumented student, you can be an Asian American undocumented student, you can be a Latino undocumented student," Ingram said. "Undocumented status is not a racial category; it's not a category that's gender identity, orientation."

Texas had the second-highest number of unauthorized immigrants in the United States at 1.6 million people in 2021, according to the Pew Research, a nonprofit public policy think tank.

There were more than 408,000 undocumented U.S. higher education students in 2021 — comprising about 1.9% of all postsecondary students in the U.S., according to an American Community Survey. The "vast majority" of the undocumented students came to the U.S. at a young age, the survey found. About 46% of these students were Hispanic, 27% were Asian American Pacific Islander, 10% were white and about 14% were Black, the American Immigration Council found.

"It feels like there's a concerted effort to say to students without documentation, who we know oftentimes are Black and brown, that you don't belong here," Ingram said.

How UT's Monarch Program helped students

A UT student, who is undocumented and asked to remain anonymous due to their status and the politically charged climate around immigration policies in Texas, said they chose to come to UT because of its support for undocumented students. The high school the student attended had no program like Monarch, and it felt impossible to navigate how to enter and succeed in the higher education world.

"It was just wonderful to know that at least UT recognized that this student population existed," the student said. "I could always fall back on that."

Monarch was the place the student could learn about and get help with higher education applications, financial aid, internships and entrance tests for future certifications.

Finding a home with the program, the student became an ambassador for Monarch and helped guide other students through their questions. When SB 17 was passed, the student thought nothing would change.

But on Jan. 10 ― less than a week before spring semester classes began ― the student found out the program had closed, leaving them "blindsided."

"Monarch is not necessarily geared to anybody from a specific ethnicity or culture or nationality, it is literally open for anybody and everyone because under the Monarch umbrella, it's yes, undocumented students, yes, (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) DACA holders, Temporary Protected Status, but also people who come from mixed status. That includes U.S. citizens," the student said.

"Why weren't we given enough time to do something?" they said.

'You're not alone'

Rooted, the Immigrant Student Liberation Collective, led by UT students, alumni and allies, plans to continue offering support and resources in place of Monarch, the undocumented student said. The collective has taken over Monarch's Instagram account under the new handle @ut_rooted.

Ana Hernández, who graduated with a degree in Latin American studies and history in 2015 and a master's in social work and in Latin American studies in 2018, is a member of Rooted. In 2013, she joined the University Leadership Initiative, a student group that advocates for immigrants without documentation, and was part of the initial research and student advocacy that demonstrated the need for a university-backed program like Monarch.

"We felt that we had finally made some incremental progress in getting just that much more, a small amount of funding and staff, so that students finally felt like they had a place on campus they could go and be themselves and feel safe and feel protected," Hernández said. "And feel cared about."Hernández said she was not surprised by the program's closure, but she said it "feels very unwarranted based on the law."

She would want students to know that ULI and Rooted are available to support students, working with community partners to help make up the resources lost with Monarch's shuttering.

"There is support," Hernández said. "No one has the power to take away your right to exist. And you're not alone."

No comments:

Post a Comment