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Open letter contesting Mills’ support for undocumented students

This letter is in response to the email I received on Sept. 20, 2017, from the M Center informing me that I have been withdrawn from my classes and am no longer able to access student resources. In fact, I was never registered for classes according to communication received from the associate provost. I was surprised to see this email following extensive personal communication and correspondence between my academic adviser, the provost’s office and the M Center regarding my financial situation.

I cannot renew my DACA status and do not qualify for federal aid. The M Center made it clear that as long as I showed them my current fundraising efforts, they would allow me to register for classes so that I could fully participate in my studies by having access to class syllabi, readings, email, library privileges, and assignments online. Despite repeatedly returning to the M Center to register for classes and access the necessary materials to thrive in school, I have been consistently denied.

Last year, I was admitted to Mills College without a financial aid package. The first time I went to the financial aid office, Mary instructed me to “come back to school when I had the money to pay for it.” At no point did she, nor any other staff member at the M Center, provide information on financial resources or offer to work with me to put together a financial aid package. I sought out different resources, met with faculty and staff and there was virtually nothing in place for supporting undocumented students.

Mills College prides itself on diversity efforts, yet employs people unqualified and insensitive to work with students that are legally marginalized and not economically privileged.

Thankfully, with the support of my community, I fundraised over $1,000 within 24 hours and showed up the next day to ask for an extension. That semester I was able to pay my tuition because my community donated to fund my education.

I received no support from Mills College for my fundraising efforts- instead, I relied on individual donations from a network of primarily working class and undocumented communities, which is a reflection of what we, as women of color, have to do to confront the type of institutionalized oppression perpetuated at Mills.

Then, last semester, I wrote a letter of appeal and was told that Mills would cover my full spring semester tuition. I was warned that this was a one-time aid and that I shouldn’t expect anything else. I continued to find creative ways to fund my education including applying for countless scholarships on my own. I was granted $1,000 that same semester from an outside supporter, and the M Center informed me that the money would carry over to this Fall semester. However, Mills used that scholarship money toward last semester’s tuition, without telling me.

That $1,000 was my payment for my first month here at Mills this semester, giving me enough time to fundraise for tuition this year. For the last few weeks I have been in and out of the M Center, explaining my situation and literally begging for an extension. Last week, I turned in all my paperwork on time to add my classes. I came to the M Center and brought proof of my fundraising campaign that had well over $1,084 within 24 hours. Currently my campaign is at $2,900, but I was told that it “wasn’t enough” because I was $100 too short to add classes.

This bureaucratic detail is one of the many ways that Mills actively excludes and inhibits the success of economically disadvantaged students.

It is clear that Mills College is in no way an inclusive campus, concerned or invested in the lives of undocumented students. It seems that Mills is plagued by the illusion of “allyship” where pins and emails is all that social justice means.

Even after last week’s action by undocumented students in which they demanded the end of the harassment, discrimination, and injustice done to us on THIS campus, we get dropped from our classes. Meetings to talk with the administration are pointless when we’re being denied the very basic opportunity to remain at Mills as students.

This is institutionalized racism, marginalization, and not what equity and equality is about. Mills College was my dream school. It is embarrassing that I felt compelled and inspired to attend a college that I believed challenged and attempted to dismantle the disenfranchisement of students of color.

My experience has been nothing but traumatic, marginalizing, embarrassing, testing of my emotional and mental health, and dehumanizing.

This is not support. This is the living practice and embodiment of white heteronormative patriarchy masked as good hearted and well-intended liberalism.

I have been shown through countless actions by Mills and the M center that my existence is solely monetary, and I am no more than a means of revenue. This institution does not believe in putting forth the best thinkers and pioneers; instead, it is concerned with the bottom line. This is not the way to have people become proud alums.

I could never be proud of an institution this rooted in capitalistic oppressive racism, especially one that increasingly brands itself as a social justice school but has no policies in place that protect its students from economic and emotional precarity.

Colleges and universities across the country have provided undocumented students a community from which they feel buffered from the effects of dehumanizing, terrorizing, and criminalizing laws. But, at Mills, I have felt the opposite of protected.

Nevertheless, I have invested, along with my community, a lot of money and resources to attend Mills College. I have thrived in my classes and I am focused on fighting for a just solution not only for myself, but for all of those hopeful students who will come after me. The issues that undocumented and DACAmented students face are also shared by other low-income, working class, and racialized student at Mills.

For this reason, I have decided to finally make this case public and share with interested parties who want to work with students for a restorative solution in a fully transparent way.

At the very least, undocumented students should not be dropped from classes while they’re looking for ways to pay for their education.

I ask that Mills finds a solution to this issue immediately not only for myself but for those other students trying to simply stay and succeed in their classes this semester. I invite other students similarly affected to step forward so it is understood that this is not a singular and isolated incident.

Maldonado has created a campaign to address issues expressed in this letter. More information can be found on the campaign’s page.