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Fall 2017

Stephany Cuevas

Photo by Katie Noble

UndocuAlly 101

When California native Stephany Cuevas, Ed.M.'15, a current doctoral student, moved to the East Coast in 2012, she was more than familiar with the term “undocuAlly,” which basically states that someone has made a commitment to be a visible ally to undocumented students and their families. Having lived in California in a predominantly Latino community, and having been a student at University of California, Berkeley, where the topic of immigration predominates, she had heard the term often.

Cuevas was surprised, then, when she moved to the East Coast in 2012 to start the Ed.D. Program, how infrequently she heard the term undocuAlly and how few mandatory courses local universities offered on how to support undocumented students. She decided she could help.

“I was a college adviser in Oakland (California) public schools, and I was always trying to find ways to support students,” she says. “Around my second year here, I said, I have this experience, so what can I do to help?”

She developed a workshop that w ould a ddress w hat s he believes is key information all educators should know about undocumented students and their families. In 2014, she debuted the information at the Ed School's Alumni of Color Conference, including demographics about this population and key definitions. She also talked about research that showed what life was like for undocumented students, highlighting the stresses the group faces, such as anxiety caused by fear of deportation.

“I then walked through state and federal policies that impact undocumented students,” Cuevas says, including Plyer v. Doe, the national dream act, and daca. “I believe that this is the baseline information that educators need to know in order to begin to discuss what it means to be an ally to this population.”

Since then, the workshop has morphed into an undocuAlly 101 training that Cuevas has presented at K–12 schools, at colleges, and at a social justice conference in Boston. She even worked with the Harvard Chan School of Public Health, tweaking the material for students who would eventually work in the health sector.

“This shift in context included detailed information about the impact of an undocumented status on health and the services available,” she says.

At her trainings, Cuevas also introduces to her audience the undocuAlly term.

“How do we make ourselves visible allies to undocumented students,” she asks, “and what does it mean to not only say we support undocumented students and their families, but publically and visibly show that support?”

One way to do this, she says, is to post supportive signs and stickers on doors and in hallways — something made popular by the LGBTQ movement.

“The immigrant rights movement has learned a lot from the LGBTQ community in this way,” she says. “For example, there are signs you can print out that say you’re welcome here. The purpose is to not only show visible support, but to also signal to students that there are people in that organization that are willing to help them in any way they can.”

No matter how educators decide to support undocumented students, Cuevas says they must first do their homework.

“As educators, we leverage great power and can often serve as a bridge between students and different systems that may be difficult to understand or navigate,” she says. “Using this position of power to seek information and advocate for students and families is essential now more than ever. Educators should inform themselves about the resources available for undocumented and immigrant populations and connect with them. Educators are not expected to know how to address all the questions, but they should know where to go to and who to direct families to if necessary.”