KUNM

Dream Team Trains UNM Faculty And Staff

Sep 11, 2018

Hundreds of students around the state are affected by the Trump administration’s amped-up immigration rhetoric, and teachers are seeing the effects in their classrooms. The New Mexico Dream Team held a training for University of New Mexico faculty, instructors and staff on Friday.

UNM English instructor Brenna Gomez talked to a roomful of educators about how she found herself in the national debate after making it clear to her class that she would not disclose any student’s status and would work with people on immigration-related academic accommodations.

After a student objected to what he considered politicized language in her syllabus, Fox News covered the story in January, and the backlash was swift.

"The questions that I got even from some family members was, 'Well, didn’t you think about your safety?' " Gomez said. "And I said, 'Well, when I’m making my syllabus, I don’t usually often think about my safety.' But regardless, it was the right thing to do."

Her inbox filled up. Reporters showed up at her house, and she said she actually didn’t feel totally safe for a short while.

Gomez said the Trump administration is telling people who are undocumented immigrants that they are less than human, and even if there is some discomfort in being an ally, she feels a responsibility to outline concrete ways she can help as a teacher.

"The world didn’t end. I ended up being fine. The university supported me. Everything was OK," she said. "I heard from undocumented students who said that it mattered a lot to them."

Language in class materials is a small thing, really, she said, but it has an impact. "Because UNM has such a large percentage of Latinx students here, it’s really important to take a stand, when most of our classroom is being affected by these issues," Gomez said.

Forty-three percent of the students at UNM are Hispanic, according to the Spring Enrollment Report.

The Dream Team also talked about educators knowing how to interact with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, should it come to that. For instance, people aren’t obligated to help ICE or border patrol, and instructors don’t have to let them into the classroom if officers don’t present a signed judicial warrant. But educators cannot obstruct officers either.

UNM’s Faculty Senate passed a resolution last year in support of the university becoming a sanctuary campus, but this hasn’t been yet been embraced by the Board of Regents or by UNM officially. Around the country, public colleges are weighing financial risk that could be involved in adopting these policies. Some politicians nationally and at the state level are making moves to outlaw sanctuary campuses and cities.

Luis Leyva is a fourth-year student at UNM and the chapter lead for the campus Dream Team. "It can get to the psyche of a student," he said. "They can kind of depressed, they can get sad, and it kind of takes the focus off school."

And he said public places like school may start to seem treacherous for undocumented students, but that’s why they’re doing these trainings. "It’s important to be able to have that professor you can go talk to, and they’ll understand. It makes the whole difference to a student."

Selene Vences says the key takeaway for teachers is that the students they have right in front of them might be undocumented, "and how are you creating inviting and welcoming spaces to them that assures their safety? And that you understand the realities that they face?" 

She's the education equity organizer with the New Mexico Dream Team. In that role, she's heard from students at all educaitonal levels, including middle school, high school and college.

"Across the board, they told us that, whenever college recruitment comes on campus, or whenever there’s any resources about going to college, there isn’t anything for undocumented students," she said. "And there’s been counselors that have told undocumented students that they cannot go to school, which is not true."

The  law requires that all students—regardless of status—have access to education, and in New Mexico, students who are undocumented can receive in-state tuition and financial aid.

The Dream Team is hoping to reach UNM instructors first, and then their departments. The goal, Vences says, is for entire New Mexico institutions—universities and school districts—to roll out policies that make sure all undocumented students can get the education they have a right to.

The Dream Team says representatives will be meeting with the new UNM President Garnett Stokes soon.