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Thursday, December 1, 2022

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URC Director Cynthia Torres and SDSU VP of Student Affairs and Campus Diversity Luke Wood (center) are joined by supporters for the grand opening celebration of the university's new resource center. URC Director Cynthia Torres and SDSU VP of Student Affairs and Campus Diversity Luke Wood (center) are joined by supporters for the grand opening celebration of the university's new resource center.
 


More Than A Decade in the Making

SDSU's new resource center welcomes undocumented students with a safe space and aims to educate the community about the challenges that undocumented students face.
By Aaron Burgin
 

 

With a sun-drenched sky as the backdrop Tuesday afternoon, more than 100 students, staff, and supporters of SDSU’s Undocumented Resource Center (URC) gathered to celebrate the grand opening of its new space in the College of Arts and Letters. 

 

Speakers at the opening, held at the Storm Hall Terrace, included students who urged the university to continue to support the center’s growth in the future, SDSU Vice President of Student Affairs and Campus Diversity J. Luke Wood, and an alumnus who urged supporters to donate to the center and a famed poet who urged undocumented students to not hide in the shadows but let their light shine. 

 

At the center of the festivities was URC Director Cynthia Torres, who said Monday that the celebration was more than a decade in the making.

 

“The Grand Opening has been a long time coming, it was born out of student activism and advocacy in 2009 with the student organization Education Without Borders (EWB), and with each generation of leadership, they continued to push to be seen and heard,” said Torres, EWB adviser from its inception to 2017.  

 

The URC was founded in 2020, a collaboration between students, staff, faculty, alumni and the EWB. It provides the campus’ undocumented students with a safe space and offers programming to educate the campus community about the challenges that undocumented students face.  

 

Before receiving its status as a standalone center, services for undocumented students were provided through the Office of Educational Opportunity Programs and Ethnic Affairs (EOP) in what was called the Undocumented Resource Area, which was opened in 2017. 

 

For many undocumented students, the center and its predecessor resource area allowed them to come out of the shadows and find a home away from home, Torres said. 

 

“You have to remember undocumented folks lived in fear and in the shadows during a very conservative time in San Diego and SDSU,” Torres said. “It was in the last few years in partnership with MEChA, AChA, CAFE, and of course EWB meetings … that the huge efforts came to fruition and we gained space inside of EOP (Undocumented Resource Area) and now a full-on Center with professional staff, funding and welcoming safe space on campus for our UndocuStudents to build community and a sense of belonging.”

 

Torres said a permanent space will allow the center to continue to add programming and services, which currently include academic and career advising, legal services, assistance with DACA renewals, immigration legal consultation, mental health workshops, guidance and support in navigating campus and community resources. 

 

“I'm honored to be a part of this journey and as the song says ‘the best is yet to come,’" Torres said. “I feel like finally our UndocuStudents have a place on campus, a family, a place where they can connect with other students like themselves where we can empower them and watch in awe of their resilience to achieve their dream of higher education.”

 

Several of the students who currently work and spend time at the center spoke at Tuesday’s ceremony. Ximena Bustos Benitez, a fourth-year kinesiology major with an emphasis in pre-physical therapy, outlined four steps she wants to see the university take in the future, including expanding the current URC footprint to a larger and more centrally located space, and providing it with more financial support, as well as boosting mental health services for undocumented students and becoming a more undocumented-friendly campus. 

 

“I think that the URC has grown to its capacity in current space and I hope to one day see it flourish without limits,” Benitez said. 

 

Graduate student Jennifer Ojeda Ortiz, urged her fellow students to continue to press forward despite the obstacles they face due to political gridlock on the immigration front. 

 

“It is our time to keep fighting and keep pushing for other undocumented students. I am here to show that it is possible to continue on an educational journey no matter what people say, what policies are trying to stop us and in general, the obstacles that we face every day,” Ortiz said. “We are undocumented, we are unafraid and we are unashamed.”

 

Also speaking at the ceremony was Juan Novello, who graduated from SDSU in 2012 as an undocumented student. Now a U.S. citizen, Novello said he looked at the opening with pride and reflected on his personal journey as well as the journey of the center to this point. 

 

“When I started at the university, being like ‘hey I am undocumented’ wasn’t a thing you could do. There were no resources for us. There were a lot of questions and a lot of unknowns. And the notion of asking a peer ‘Hey, are you undocumented?’ was not a thing,” Novello said. “Just to know there is a place on campus where folks can not only convene, connect and reflect but have that sense of family… if that doesn’t touch your heart, I don’t know what will. Right now, I am the happiest person, and this image is something that will live in my memory forever.” 

 

The final keynote speaker, nationally acclaimed undocuqueer (undocumented queer) poet and public speaker Yosimar Reyes, told students to proudly wear their undocumented status and reclaim their stories and narratives. 

 

“As undocumented people we are taught to walk into spaces feeling small and somehow dim our lives as if we are intruders in this place, but the reality is that we are an integral part of the fabric of this country,” Reyes said. 

 

Want to learn more about the Undocumented Resource Center? Visit the website at https://sacd.sdsu.edu/undocumented-resource