The University will provide private, need-based aid to undocumented students, starting with the Class of 2019, University President James W. Wagner announced at a Tuesday meeting with the student advocacy group for undocumented students Freedom at Emory University.

“As a private institution, Emory will use private, non-governmental resources to offer university scholarship support to these qualified students, beginning with the class entering this fall,” Wagner wrote in a statement to the Wheel.

Emory students who are in need of financial aid and are exempt from deportation according to the 2012 federal immigration policy Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) will receive private aid, according to Wagner.

The DACA policy allows undocumented immigrants who were under age 31 on June 15, 2012, who came to the U.S. before their 16th birthdays or have a high school or higher education, among other qualifications, to remain in the country for two years, after which they may apply for DACA renewal.

Wagner’s announcement followed meetings between the Freedom at Emory members and administrators for the past three months as part of the student group’s campaign to help students without U.S. citizenship afford an Emory education.

Although the final details about funding and feasibility have yet to be clarified, Freedom at Emory members have lauded the decision.

Freedom at Emory Co-Founder and College senior Andy Kim, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, said the group was “extremely excited” to hear Wagner’s proposal.

“I’m really proud to go to a school that’s stepping up and supporting a group of people that [have] historically and systematically been oppressed,” Kim said. He also noted the importance of such a policy in the state of Georgia, where undocumented students are not only ineligible for federal aid, but also cannot apply to schools within the state’s University System and cannot pay in-state tuition, which is generally lower than that of a private school like Emory.

The University System of Georgia Policy 4.1.6, which the Board of Regents implemented in 2011, states that a person who is not lawfully present in the United States is barred from admission at colleges within the Georgia System, including the state’s top five public schools. In the same year, the Board also implemented Policy 4.3.4, which prevents undocumented students from applying for in-state tuition.

Emory has shifted its policy despite many administrators’ warnings that finding need-based aid in time for the arrival of the incoming Class of 2019 would be far from possible.

After meeting with Freedom at Emory students on Feb. 18, Wagner wrote in an email to the Wheel that “time is short, considering where we are in the admissions and financial cycle,” in regards to whether the University could provide need-based aid for undocumented students accepted to the Class of 2019.

Provost and Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs Claire Sterk expressed to the Wheel similar worries that the goal was out of the administration’s reach after a similar meeting on March 11.
The advocacy group’s next step, according to Kim, is to continue working with Campus Life leaders to create a welcoming environment for undocumented students arriving in the fall.

“We’re definitely going to still be involved,” Kim said. “Considering the past, we’re excited to begin the process of … making sure that undocumented students feel comfortable on campus.”
While the student activists have already met with Senior Vice President and Dean of Campus Life Ajay Nair on March 3 to discuss potential campus programs that would help undocumented students find jobs and adjust to college life, they will continue these talks in more detail, according to Freedom at Emory members.

In addition to Campus Life officials, Wagner recommended that the group meet with Director of Financial Aid John Leach “to continue the conversation about financial aid,” according to Freedom at Emory member and College junior Nowmee Shehab. Specifically, she added, the group and the administration must figure out how these funds will be sustainable and whether they’ll meet the full needs of the undocumented students.

Both Kim and Julianna Joss, Freedom at Emory co-founder and College sophomore, stressed that their advocacy efforts did not start at Emory.

High school students and graduates at the Georgia-based undocumented student advocacy organization Freedom University, which offers leadership training and college-level classes for undocumented students, along with the school’s Executive Director Laura Emiko Soltis “have been integral in driving this initiative,” according to Joss.

Soltis said she was “so excited I don’t even have the words.”

“It’s just an honor to watch these students mobilize across differences in documentation status and racial backgrounds,” she said, adding that she plans to continue working with other undocumented student ally groups at schools like Georgia State University and Kennesaw State University to continue combating the Board of Regents’ rules barring undocumented students from attending schools in the University System of Georgia and from qualifying for in-state tuition.

Like Joss, Kim also emphasized the importance of the Freedom University students’ advocacy work.

“We want to fully recognize that it wasn’t fully the work of Emory students,” he said. “It’s three years of work of undocumented students.”

What “sparked” the group’s efforts two years ago, Kim said, was a panel featuring undocumented student speakers during Martin Luther King Jr. Week at the Chase Gallery in Emory’s Schwartz Center for Performing Arts. Two undocumented students, Soltis and Emory Associate Professor of African American Studies Carol Anderson discussed the similarities between the undocumented students movement and the Civil Rights Movement as part of this year’s King Week on Jan. 22.

“It’s really inspiring to see how many people can come together on an issue that doesn’t directly affect all of us,” Kim said of the administration’s help this spring. “I’m really glad Emory has taken a step in the right direction, and I hope Emory continues to challenge itself in ways like this in the future.”

As for schools taking similar steps toward inclusion of undocumented students, Soltis listed Berea College, the first interracial and coeducational college in the South, in Kentucky and the historically-black Tougaloo College in Mississippi as southern schools that openly accept undocumented students and offer them need-based aid.

She added that the two schools are “rather small,” and that most universities’ tendencies to not clarify their undocumented student policies can make the application process a daunting one for high school seniors without citizenship.

“It really means a lot for Emory as an ethical leader in the South,” Soltis said.

Valentina Garcia, an undocumented high school graduate and Freedom University member who applied to Emory and has decided to attend Dartmouth College this fall, wrote in an email to the Wheel that she “felt a huge sense of relief” upon hearing the news. She added that Wagner’s decision opened a door for her 15-year-old brother, another member of Freedom University, who plans on going to college right after he graduates.

“I think this decision is an amazing win for the undocumented student movement,” she wrote. “It shows … that this makes Emory a trendsetter for education equality along the South.”
College sophomore Crystal McBrown said she was surprised that the decision came so soon and emphasized the announcement’s reach.

“A lot of [undocumented students] have been here for a while — they went to elementary school here [in the United States], they went to middle school and high school here, then they find out they can’t even afford [to go to college],” she said, “I definitely think this is important for Emory. I’m really proud.”

— By Lydia O’Neal

Correction (4/3 at 10:47 a.m.): Paragraph 17 incorrectly stated that Freedom University Executive Director Laura Emiko Solitis works with student groups for undocumented student advocacy at the University of Georgia and the Georgia Institute of Technology. There are no such advocacy groups at those schools.

Correction (4/3 at 10:54 a.m.): In paragraph 17, Soltis was quoted as saying that she was working with schools in Georgia to pursue policies similar to Emory’s. This is incorrect, as the schools mentioned are public and therefore cannot have similar financial aid policies.


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A College senior studying economics and French, Lydia O’Neal has written for The Morning Call, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Consumer Reports Magazine and USA Today College. She began writing for the News section during her freshman year and began illustrating for the Wheel in the spring of her junior year. Lydia is studying in Paris for the fall 2015 semester.