Recess Blog

Engaging with Immigrant Students

By Rob Schroeder
October 19, 2017

While the extant literature has documented the ways in which immigrant-origin students are engaging in their communities, we still know very little about how immigrant-origin students civically engage on campus and ways in which university campuses can do to support their needs. The College’s Dalal Katsiaficas, PhD, assistant professor of educational psychology, is exploring ways in which immigrant-origin youth contribute to their communities and carve out spaces of inclusion and solidarity with undocumented students on UIC’s campus as part of a grant through the UIC Institute for Policy and Civic Engagement.

“We are providing scientifically validated recommendations for what needs to occur on campus, what’s already working and what might change in upcoming years,” Katsiaficas said. “Students are interpreting these findings and making policy recommendations.”

Katsiaficas and student researchers from the College of Education are examining how students navigate the campus, create a sense of community, and support their fellow immigrant-origin peers. The team has established a student advisory board to advise on priorities and methodological decisions.

The findings from this research hopes to inform faculty and staff in ways the campus can better support the needs of immigrant-origin students.

Students engage in a group meeting for a class atop the BSB building's roof patio on UIC's campus.

“As a former English department lecturer at UIC, I’ve seen political waves coming in and out, as Chicago responds to different local and national political movements, but we need to know how that connects with what our students need,” said Lydia Saravia, PhD Curriculum Studies student.

The research serves to identify spaces on campus where students feel a sense of safety and belonging, spaces where they can freely civically engage.  Jennifer Juárez, PhD Educational Psychology student and assistant director of the Latin American Recruitment and Educational Services (LARES) Program at UIC, says the current political climate is spurring the need for collaboration to expand spaces for civic engagement for immigrant-origin students.

“With the current presidential election, everyone feels a sense of exposure of their true self”, Juárez said. “We are in need of empathy and to learn to work with other groups on campus, work that hasn’t always been done to teach our educators how to truly work with our immigrant-origin student population.”

Saravia says she is curious to see how reactions to the presidential election transform into action.  Teaching a class the day after the election, she says the dominant question students asked was “What is going to happen to me now?”  With UIC students engaging in political activism related to Inauguration Day, and in the wake of the canceled Trump election rally at the UIC Pavilion in March 2016, the group is interested to see if students offer definitions of civic engagements based on the election results.

“College campuses are the stages upon which national, state and local level policy play out,” Katsiaficas said.  “Gathering the voices of immigrant-origin students and understanding their needs can better position us to make informed decisions regarding responsive change at the institutional level.”

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