Effects of Participation in Immigration Activism on Undocumented Students in Higher Education




Spinney, Samantha A.

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For undocumented students to go to college, they need to be highly resourceful and exceptionally motivated—and that might not be enough. Society confers numerous barriers on undocumented students regarding higher education attainment. Most undocumented students, who typically come from families living in poverty, cannot afford the high cost of a college education in the U.S. Moreover, undocumented students are ineligible for federal student aid and, in most states, undocumented students pay out-of-state tuition rates. In addition to these financial barriers, undocumented students also face academic and social-emotional barriers to higher education attainment, including receiving inadequate preparation for the college application process and experiencing mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, related to their undocumented status internalized racism and xenophobia from the broader society. As such, it is extremely difficult for undocumented students to enroll in and graduate college—which will present future economic challenges for the nation as a whole. Previous research suggests that undocumented students benefit from social supports on campus and that student activism provides college students with numerous social-emotional benefits. A qualitative study was conducted to investigate the effects of participating in immigration activism on undocumented students in higher education. Specifically, I conducted in-depth interviews with nine undocumented student activists from the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region and found that participation in immigration activism affected the participants’ development of social capital as well as their academic, political and civic, and social-emotional development. The findings of this study suggest that participation in immigration activism may help undocumented students overcome some barriers related to higher education attainment. By understanding how participation in immigration activism provides support to undocumented students, secondary and higher education administrators, student services professionals, and educators can better serve the higher education attainment needs of undocumented students—either by welcoming or supporting immigration activism on campus, or by incorporating supportive elements of activism into other types of school or campus programming.



Multicultural education, Higher education, Educational sociology, Dream Act, Higher education, Higher education attainment, Immigration activism, Undocumented students