Emotional Responses, SMC’s Action, and Human Resilience

Santa Monica College students embrace one another during an on-campus Election Grief Counseling Awareness meeting designed to help students learn about and comprehend the election and its outcome at Santa Monica College in Santa Monica, Calf. on November 10, 2016. (Photo by: Marisa Vasquez)

"When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice." President Donald Trump delivered this line in his inaugural speech on January 20, 2017, while addressing a crowd that Press Secretary Sean Spicer labeled the largest inauguration crowd in history. Within the following 100 days after telling the American people he aimed to “seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world,” President Trump signed executive orders that would expand deportations across the nation, begin the construction of a physical wall between the United States and Mexico, and temporarily ban entry from seven Middle-Eastern countries. The orders sparked nationwide anxiety toward the protection and well-being of undocumented immigrants.

This shift in political climate elicited an immediate emotional reaction on Santa Monica College’s campus. Luis Andrade, an SMC Communication Studies professor, conducted a study with undocumented students at SMC on their immediate emotional response to Trump’s election. Qualitatively measured through interviews, the study’s purpose was twofold. “The first purpose was to understand the emotional reactions of undocumented students, immediately after Trump won,” Andrade explains. “The second purpose was to understand whether the school, the instructors, the administrators here are providing enough support and validation.”

Andrade found that several students felt immense emotional grief, including feelings of anxiety and depression. “A lot of them reported feeling very scared, very shocked,” says Andrade.

When asked about his immediate reaction towards Trump’s election, a person who talked with The Corsair on condition of anonymity due to his undocumented status, spoke earnestly about his immediate fear. “I don’t know what would happen if I was to be deported,” he confided. “I’m used to living here. I’ve lived all of my life here, I would feel strange over there.” With the uncertainty comes a constant state of alarm whenever he’s in public. Everyday, routine things elicit a level of alertness that is unknown to US citizens. “If I go to the bus and I go home, I’m always watching my back...I’m always scared.”

In an act of reassurance to the SMC student body, the college hosted a Day of Grieving for those students affected by Trump’s new presidency. Along with setting aside time for the emotional shock, SMC President Kathryn Jeffery released a statement, on January 30, 2017, just days after President Trump issued an executive order for a travel ban. “We support the ability of all students attending our college to attend without fear or intimidation,” the memo states.

In regard to SMC’s initiatives in accommodating its undocumented population, according to Andrade’s study, some students believed SMC maintained an active presence in supporting undocumented students, while others felt that SMC wasn’t necessarily an institutional safe space. However, the study displayed the growing relationships between un- documented students and the school's faculty and counselors. Because of this, Andrade explains, “It really sets up an urgency to have these types of resources here during these political times.”

Maria Lopez, SMC’s Associated Students’ Director of Student Services, is an active presence and voice calling for the establishment of undocumented-immigrant support on campus. She discussed SMC’s current progress in curating a safe space for this community. “You have IDEAS, a club on campus, that supports undocumented students,” Lopez claimed. “You have faculty that supports undocumented students and you have a financial aid specialist who supports undocumented students—that’s amazing, but it’s not an institutional support...there’s nothing permanent.” Although Lopez is involved in projects supporting the undocumented population at SMC, such as advocating for the DREAMer Scholarship and a VIP Welcome Day booth specifically for DREAMers, she believes the support has not yet reached an institutional level.

“There have always been problems in the DREAMer population even before this election,” she says. For example, Lopez, an undocumented student herself, emphasizes the complexity of being undocumented. While having to meet multiple deadlines for a variety of logistical paperwork, undocumented students don’t always receive or know about the specific help for their unique needs. Counselors may not always be well-versed in the technicalities of being undocumented. However, considering the recent political climate, Lopez explains, “Now more than ever, we feel that SMC needs to say we support DREAMers.”

One of SMC’s first steps in the direction of institutional support for undocumented students was the Ally Training Program held on Friday, May 5. The objective of the program was to inform a select handful of faculty members on campus about the undocumented population and the unique struggles those students face. With that knowledge, the idea is that those faculty members will go on to train other SMC faculty members and professors as well.

Dr. Marisol Moreno is a full-time professor at SMC who works with DREAMers in upper education levels, and she believes in the necessity of having an ally program at SMC. “You’re going to be okay here, is what we’re trying to communicate with the ally program,” she says. “We’re an institution, and our job is to promote student success, whether I be a student support services member or a faculty member.”

Currently, SMC’s Financial Aid team features Belen Vaccaro, a Student Services Financial Aid Specialist who is responsible for FAFSA applicants and DREAM Applications. Vaccaro oversees a program called DREAMers, where hired DREAMer students are able to work as a makeshift resource center for other DREAM- ers. Because the program is currently funded by an equity grant, there is no guarantee that the workshop will be continued in the fall semester. Vaccaro’s intention is to lead the workshop to an institutional permanence. “My goal right now is to collect that data and show the college that this is doable and it's working."

Vaccaro recognizes the growing demand for a specialized resource center for undocumented students. While a DREAMer Center is in mind for the future, Vaccaro believes, “Waiting until that happens would be doing a disservice to our students, so we’re doing what we can with the resources that we have with the mentality to inform how we would plan a Dream Center.” One of the most important things to Vaccaro, as an SMC faculty member, is to “let our DREAMers know that we are supportive of them.”

Despite the obstacles DREAMers must consider during their education, the term best suited to describe them is quite powerful—resilient. Through protests, through the ignition of a revolutionary spirit, students have found the courage to stand up. In the face of an administration that deported its rst protected DREAMer, the undocumented community maintains the support to keep ghting.

Moreno, also a faculty advisor for the I.D.E.A.S Club, can attest to the spirit of optimism within the community. “They’re not broken people,” she stated thoughtfully. “This is what I love about them and about human resiliency. You see it in them.”

In observing the coping methods of undocumented students in his study, Andrade also found resilience, and power through activism. “That concept of resilience,” he says, “It’s very good, in a lot of ways it will become motivation for them to not give up on school.”

When the anonymous student was asked what advice he had for other undocumented students, he thought carefully before answering, “Don’t give up. If you give up, then you won’t have anything to strive for. You won’t have dreams.” While looking down at his hands he painted the picture. “We’re all out here to have a career, have families, and travel the world. It doesn’t matter if you’re at a community college for four or five years, as long as you’re coming for more knowledge, that will help you.”