New scholarship to aid DACA, temporary protected status students

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Funding efforts for the Jorge Alberto Urcuyo Scholarship were led by LatinX Alumni, the Latin American Students Union and UndocuTribe. COURTESY PHOTO / UNDOCUTRIBE

In order to aid students at the College of William and Mary who are under programs such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or Temporary Protected Status, the LatinX and Hispanic Alumni community at the College decided to take action and create the Jorge Alberto Urcuyo Scholarship.

Together with UndocuTribe and the Office of University Advancement, LatinX Alumni created this scholarship to specifically assist these students who might be prevented from receiving financial aid through FAFSA because of their immigration status.

For those involved in creating the Jorge Alberto Urcuyo Scholarship, it represents an important step in the College’s efforts to shape an inclusive community, regardless of one’s immigration status. In recent years, the presence of undocumented students at the College has become more openly acknowledged, but undocumented students still face numerous challenges.

Undocumented students report that the difficulties of regular college life are often compounded by worries about immigration status and financial aid. When President Donald Trump’s administration announced its plan to end DACA in September 2017, thousands of people, including many college students, were suddenly plunged into uncertainty.

The scholarship was created with the goal of allowing undocumented students to focus solely on their studies rather than economic worries.

“A lot of undocumented students come from backgrounds where college isn’t always an option, even though these kids may be super bright and have a lot of potential,” Latin American Student Union Vice President Andrea Mares ’20 said.

“A lot of undocumented students come from backgrounds where college isn’t always an option, even though these kids may be super bright and have a lot of potential,” Latin American Student Union Vice President Andrea Mares ’20 said.

Besides holding DACA or TPS status, recipients of the scholarship must demonstrate financial need. While half of the funding for the scholarship comes from a financial contribution from the Navas-Urcuyo family, and the scholarship is named in honor of one of its members. Jorge Alberto Urcuyo, despite having the opportunity to flee his home country of Nicaragua during the country’s revolution, considered it his civic duty to remain, became a teacher and accepted a remote post hours outside the capital city of Managua.

“[Urcuyo was] extremely dedicated to his students,” Chilin-Hernández said in an email. “… [He] had a true passion for teaching and was thoroughly invested in the betterment of the impoverished people.”

Urcuyo was killed during the Nicaraguan Revolution, but the scholarship pays homage to his life and work.

The other half of the funds required the joint efforts of UndocuTribe and the LatinX Alumni Association. Alumni within and outside of the LatinX community supplied the rest of the money with individual donations.

UndocuTribe and the LASU were instrumental in the development and implementation of the scholarship fund. Besides assisting with fundraising efforts, the initial idea for the scholarship came from student members of UndocuTribe.

According to Jessica Chilin-Hernández ’12, the founder of the College’s LatinX Alumni group, the need for increased funding for undocumented students’ education was evident.

“The students shared with us their career dreams as well as their struggles as undocumented people accessing scholarship funding,” Chilin-Hernández said in an email. “… As Latinos in the [U.S.], Immigration touches our lives and our families, … so the importance of this project could not be more obvious to us.”

Furthermore, LASU was responsible for publicizing the scholarship’s creation. Its work to educate people about issues in the LatinX community provided a platform from which to advertise the new fund, and its work with LatinX Alumni led to a significant amount of the funding that went into the scholarship.

According to members of LASU, this scholarship was an intentional response to the current political climate, one in which undocumented students have been dragged into the national immigration debate and slapped with dehumanizing labels like “illegal” or “alien.”

Besides providing financial support, the fund was intended to make a public statement about the presence of undocumented students at the College. UndocuTribe Director Diego Rodriguez Cabrera ’19 said that the creation of this scholarship represents a sign of goodwill from the College.

“I think what it says is that … we belong here,” Rodriguez Cabrera said. “… The William and Mary community has shown and demonstrated their support.”

The scholarship will begin providing aid to students in 2019, and there are ambitious plans in the works for the future of the fund. Chilin-Hernández hopes that the scholarship will grow enough to be able to support multiple students. She also acknowledged the importance of supporting undocumented students at every level of the higher educational system, and hopes a future expansion of the Jorge Alberto Urcuyo Scholarship will be able to fill that role.

“Undocumented people are starting to attend graduate school, and it’s important to support those journeys as well,” Chilin-Hernández said in an email.

According to LASU President Carolina Lopez ’20, the College has yet to witness the uninhibited potential of the undocumented community, but she is hopeful this scholarship will change that.

“I think that’s the beauty of this scholarship,” Lopez said. “It’s not about your documents, where you’re from, or your status in this country. It’s about your commitment to education, and how driven you are.”