A big part of the work that Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) does at the University of Utah occurs in its cultural and resource centers, which offer students a sense of belonging no matter how they identify. One of these is the Dream Center that works with DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), unDACAmented, and students with mixed immigration status. These students face particular challenges that must be carefully navigated if they are to attain their full potential while working toward their degree at the U. For the staff of the Dream Center, guiding those students in that journey is a passion born of empathy and understanding.
“Our programs offer a cohort experience to increase belonging and community while supporting student development,” Dream Center director, Rosa Salamanca explains. She says that the Center promotes student belonging and guides them toward post-graduation success through services and programs that enhance the unique experiences of undocumented students and students of immigrant background. Their services support students as they navigate the university and access the resources necessary to thrive in higher education and beyond.
Among the center’s priorities is helping make the university a more welcoming place for undocumented peoples. “This is where the center will lead in policy and practice and be a national model for serving this community,” said Daniel K. Cairo, Assistant Vice President for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. “It already is the regional model.”
One new program in particular is helping the Dream Center advance these goals and supporting their students to achieve greater success. The Life After College Program was developed to engage undocumented students in thinking about graduate school and industry opportunities regardless of immigration status. The program requires students to apply and consists of four sessions facilitated by guest speakers who include U of U alumni, current graduate students, industry leaders, and others. By the end of the program, students have a deeper understanding of graduate school and career pathways available to undocumented persons.
Programs such as these help to address specific needs in the undocumented community—needs that can create obstacles to a college education and career success.
“Instability is very prominent in the undocumented community, especially with a political landscape that is constantly putting undocumented students at risk,” Salamanca says, adding that the Dream Center is well aware of how tenuous life can be for individuals who are undocumented. “Students, because of the nature of immigration—and their immigration status—have to become resilient and learn to ask questions about how they can access higher education.”
Salamanca says the Dream Center has developed strategies to help students with these challenges, too. She explains that “we are one of the few institutions in the state that has a connection with a national scholarship that is intended for undocumented students.” The center also works to partner with other programs and connect undocumented U of U students with other undocumented students in Utah and nationally. Making these connections allows students to create networks of support and learn from their peers. “There is real power in numbers,” Salamanca says.
“The Dream Center is not about changing immigration policies,” Salamanca says. She notes that just like other resource centers on campus, her work is focused on clearing pathways to lifelong success for students. “Our job is about providing access to higher education for everybody—and for the Dream Center, that includes undocumented students.” To find out more about the U’s Dream Center and learn how you can get involved, visit the Dream Center website.