Undocumented students soon to have resource center

When Judy Sakaki began as president of Sonoma State University in the fall, she pledged to help the university earn its designation as an Hispanic-serving institution, thus opening the door to millions in federal grants to help students.

Last week, Sakaki was able to announce that she had delivered on that promise. 

“This is wonderful news for our students and for the Sonoma State community,” Sakaki said Tuesday. “It’s not enough to just open our doors to Latino students and others who have been traditionally under-represented on college campuses. We must do everything we can to help all of our students succeed and graduate.”

Sakaki also announced creation of the Undocu-Resource Center, a facility that will help undocumented students with a variety of school-related tasks. The new center’s location has not yet been determined.

In order to qualify as a Hispanic-serving institution, schools must have at least 33 percent enrollment of low-income Hispanic students. Sonoma State had built up a case to apply for the designation because it does not meet that requirement on paper.

Mariana G. Martinez, the coordinator for the new Undocu-Resource Center, said the high cost of living creates difficulties for many students to qualify as low-income. “Many students cannot be classified as low-income because they work full time,” she said, “but those same students can barely afford to live here.”

“Our enrollment of low-income Hispanic students right now is at 25 percent,” Martinez said, “but that number does not include undocumented students. Including them in the figures, the number is closer to 30 percent.”

Eligibility as a Hispanic-Serving Institution allows Sonoma State to apply for grants from Title III and Title V of the federal Higher Education Act of 1965. 

Title III grants help schools to support Hispanic students in science, technology, engineering and math.

Sonoma State can use Title V grants to create more benefits such as internships, facility improvement, hiring faculty and many other services that can enrich education for low-income Hispanic students.

“Efforts will officially start on March 1,” Martinez said. “We don’t have a location just yet but it will definitely be in Salazar Hall. Our priority right now is raising awareness for the center and the support we can offer students.”

The center will offer students advising with financial aid, Cal Grant applications, and a quiet place to study. Martinez says another major goal is making sure students know their rights.

Martinez stressed that the Title III and V grants cannot support undocumented students, which means that funding will not be going to the Undocu-Resource Center. 

“The center is a commitment from President Sakaki,” Martinez said. “She has been very outspoken about her support of the new facility.” 

The idea for the center has been around since former Sonoma State President Ruben Armiñana’s administration. Sonoma State Academic Advisor Ariana Aparicio Aguilar says the idea first came up in a kinesiology meeting in 2014. “It has been a group effort,” Aguilar said, “and it is truly amazing to see those conversation finally come to fruition. 

To finally have a designated space and team to help this student population is a great step in the right direction to ensure that SSU supports and protects all of the students they serve.”

Sonoma State Director of Diversity and Inclusive Excellence Lauren Morimoto attended the meeting when the Undocu-Resource Center was first conceived. “Sonoma State can support its undocumented community better thanks to the center, which emerged from the conversations, advocacy and activism of many individuals.” Morimoto said.

“Ideally the new facility will provide a space where undocumented students, staff and faculty can connect with each other, cultivate a sense of belonging and obtain accurate information, services and support.”