CSULB opens center to provide resources and ‘safe, neutral’ space for undocumented students

Sean Belk
Staff Writer

Courtesy CSULB Students peer into the Dream Success Center, located in Room 309 of the University Student Union at California State University, Long Beach, on March 9 when the new resource center for undocumented students was officially opened.

Courtesy CSULB
Students peer into the Dream Success Center, located in Room 309 of the University Student Union at California State University, Long Beach, on March 9 when the new resource center for undocumented students was officially opened.

About two years ago, a small group of students at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) embarked on a mission to open the university’s first resource center to provide support services to undocumented students.

Last week, that goal became a reality.

Students and faculty gathered during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on March 9 to celebrate the opening of CSULB’s Dream Success Center, located in Room 309 of the University Student Union (USU). The center provides computers, Internet access and printing services along with career guidance and financial-aid assistance to undocumented students on campus.

According to university officials, the center at CSULB is the fourth such resource center to open in the California State University (CSU) system’s 23 campuses, following Cal State Northridge, Cal State Fullerton and Cal State Los Angeles.

CSULB officials estimate that there are some 650 undocumented students at CSULB, including those who have the right to attend college in California and pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities under California Assembly Bill 540, which was passed by the state legislature in 2001.
Elizabeth Zambrano, a 24-year-old undocumented CSULB student and vice president of the Future Underrepresented Educated Leaders (FUEL), said in a phone interview with the Signal Tribune this week that it was about two years ago when the student-run club lost its cubical space at the university’s Robert C. Maxsom Student Organization Center.

Left without a place to provide resources, the group, which was formed by undocumented students in 2006, took their concerns to CSULB’s Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) and faculty, requesting a dedicated space for the unique student population.

After persistence and holding a rally of about 80 students in support of opening a center, the club, which today consists of about 20 active members, advocated for the university to take on the responsibility of helping undocumented students, including hiring a coordinator/advisor.

The efforts last year involved meeting with then Interim CSULB President Donald Para and recently appointed CSULB President Jane Close Conoley while working with the USU Board of Trustees, which agreed last November to donate space in the USU for the resource center, and securing about $16,000 in funding from the university’s General Fund and ASI for computers and renovations.

Zambrano said, today, the newly opened Dream Success Center provides a “neutral” and “safe” place where “any undocumented student can come in and access any resources and ask any questions they may have” while not having to worry about being judged for their undocumented status.

“For a lot of people, it’s the fear and shame they may have for being undocumented, because once you come out as undocumented, you’re sharing a part of yourself that for a long time you’ve kept hidden,” said Zambrano, a Paramount resident majoring in English with a minor in global migration studies who came out publically about her undocumented status just two years ago.

“It’s a really long process because you still have that shame,” she said. “It’s still there, and that fear as well, because you don’t know what someone is going to do. Once you say you’re undocumented, you’re putting yourself at risk for anyone to report you.”

Edgar Romo, who was hired by CSULB as the Dream Success Center’s coordinator/advisor, said in a phone interview that the opening of the new resource center is a “significant step” for achieving student success at CSULB and will go a long way in helping the university boost graduation rates.

He said undocumented students face many challenges, including not being eligible for Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and not being allowed to participate in activities funded by federal funds. In addition, undocumented students, in many cases, are not legally allowed to work in the United States, presenting problems in paying for tuition and obtaining employment after graduation, Romo said.
He added that the university is not allowed to provide legal advice to undocumented students, however the center is able to refer them to the right resources.

“At the most basic level, we provide a supportive environment for our students, and we do that not only with the physical space where they can come in and feel comfortable and open about their immigration status, but we also try to provide them with some practical services like access to computers or laptops and printing,” Romo said, adding that the center also provides students with information on AB 540 and the California Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, a set of state laws passed in California that allow individuals who were brought into the U.S. under the age of 16 to apply for student financial aid benefits.

Romo said, so far, faculty and students on campus have welcomed the new resource center, which was officially approved by the ASI and USU Board of Trustees last year.

Since being opened, the center has seen a “good number of traffic,” he said, with students coming in as walk-ins for appointments and using computers for printing.

However, the Dream Success Center at CSULB has also become a political talking point, specifically for the College Republicans Club on campus that has recently criticized the university for spending money on providing services to undocumented students.

In fact, just two days after the center opened, Nestor Moto, Jr., chairman of the Republican-student club, went on the national Fox and Friends television show and stated that CSULB is providing “special treatment” to undocumented students by providing career guidance, counseling and financial-aid assistance while not providing resources to U.S.-veteran students on campus.

However, Michael Uhlenkamp, executive director of news and digital media for CSULB, told the Signal Tribune that the Republican student provided inaccurate information about the campus in his remarks. Uhlenkamp pointed out that CSULB already has a dedicated student-resource center for veterans and disabled students on campus.

Romo said he disagrees with the student’s assertion that the university is giving undocumented students special treatment.

“We certainly respect everyone’s opinion here on campus, especially if any other students have differing opinions,” he said. “We welcome them to share that opinion, but I would say the university is prioritizing student success and graduation rates.”

Zambrano said she was “surprised” by the segment on the national news channel, adding that FUEL had sent out a petition prior to opening the resource center and hadn’t received any disapproval from students or organizations.

“I was very public about what we were trying to do for those two years,” she said. “This is actually the first time we’ve heard from the College Republicans [Club] or any kind of opposition for the center.” ß