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Raising the profile of undocumented initiatives

A person wears a backpack with a message of 'Here to stay' printed on it.
Draw for Change connects artists with advocacy groups working for human rights and social justice.

The Undocumented Initiatives team at Washington State University was busy over the summer. The team, part of the Division of Student Affairs, partnered with colleagues around the state to elevate and address the needs of undocumented students.

Those efforts have resulted in several successful collaborative programs with groups both at WSU and around the state, and this fall, they will culminate in the realization of a project that’s been years in the making: the Undocumented at WSU Center, located in the Compton Union Building.

“Everything is connected,” said Marcela Pattinson, who directs Undocumented Initiatives at WSU. “Now that we have our center, we can support more students and bring in more partners from around the state.”

Advocacy through collaboration

For Pattinson, those partnerships are crucial to understanding the challenges undocumented students are facing – and to finding solutions to those challenges.

Over the summer, she organized the Washington State Educational Access Coalition for HB 1079’s Undocumented Summit, which brought together institutions around the state for a day of sessions on combating racism, navigating institutional reforms, and celebrating undocumented joy.

“Even though we’ve been in the worst time for immigration in our national climate, there was still opportunity at the conference to celebrate life and celebrate joy,” she said.

Pattinson and Linda Vargas, the undocumented initiatives ambassador at WSU, are also part of the Washington Coalition of Undocumented Student Success, a statewide collective of postsecondary institutions working to address the needs of the undocumented community. This fall, the coalition is hosting a webinar on designing non-compensatory internships for non-DACA-eligible undocumented students, who cannot legally work in the U.S. and so miss out on valuable internship opportunities and student leadership development.

“This initiative is very necessary and important for our non-DACA students … so they can receive scholarships or stipends for their work (instead of direct payments),” Vargas said.

In addition to these state-wide partnerships, Pattinson collaborates with colleagues a little closer to home. In July, she and her team partnered with the Office of Academic Affairs to offer Mariposas Poderosas to students in MIRA, an Honors College program for underrepresented first-year STEM students. Mariposas Poderosas helps students learn resilience, and although it is typically offered to undocumented students, its principles can apply to all underrepresented students.

“Lack of support is a big problem among all these students,” she said. “The common denominator is underrepresentation, so they can all benefit from this program.”

‘You have a place here to be successful’

This image will hang in the new Undocumented at WSU center on the fourth floor of the CUB. The work is by Draw for Change, an organization that connects artists with advocacy groups working for human rights and social justice.

The Undocumented at WSU center, officially opening Oct. 14, stems from many of the team’s collaborations and is the fulfillment of Pattinson’s dream.

“My goal has always been to give students the tools they need to be able to stay at WSU and graduate,” she said.

The center will be an inclusive space where undocumented students can participate in programs, connect with fellow Cougs, study, or just hang out. It will continue Undocumented Initiatives’ slate of programming that includes immigration consultations, mental health and academic support, and trainings for staff and faculty.

“To be undocumented is not easy – it’s a constant battle every day,” she said. “It will be great to have a place students can call home, where they can hang out and receive resources.”

Pattinson is planning several events around the opening, including a celebratory event, and hopes undocumented alumni and allies who helped make the center a reality will come to Pullman for the occasion.

“The center is result of so many dreams, not just mine,” Pattinson said. “A lot of students came to WSU and didn’t have resources and finished their journey alone. It’s important to show them that we care at WSU. That no matter where you come from or your immigrations status, you have a place here to be successful.”

To learn more about the center and WSU’s programming for undocumented students, visit the Undocumented @WSU website.

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