A newly offered senior capstone course at UCSB titled “Uncertainty Experiences Among Undocumented Immigrants in Santa Barbara County” explores the struggles implicit in the constant uncertainty experienced by undocumented immigrants in the Santa Barbara area.
Taught by communication professor Walid Afifi, the class is a collaboration with organizations such as UCSB’s IDEAS, a club that assists undocumented immigrants, and La Casa de la Raza, a local organization that serves the Latino/a community. The course, in which 15 students were enrolled last quarter, involves leading a series of focus groups centered around the day-to-day challenges facing undocumented students and taking part in local events designed to work with immigrants in the area.
IDEAS Social Chair and fourth-year Spanish and Chican@ studies major Cecelia Castro said Afifi’s course coincides with IDEAS’ mission of advocating access to education for undocu- mented students in the Santa Barbara area.
“This class is interesting because it’s about an issue that’s not very known — especially since we’re not as ethnically diverse as other campuses,” Castro said. “As a college campus, we especially know that education is a right and not a privilege, and that’s what this class is doing — showing how even undocumented students have the right to attend [institutions of] higher education.”
According to Afifi, the course allows students to learn firsthand about the struggles that immigrants face as well as gain insight into controversial political issues surrounding immigration in the U.S.
“It is important for students to be knowledgeable citizens,” Afifi said. “Moreover, the undocumented immigrant experience is something that affects all of us in the U.S. generally … specifically here in Santa Barbara County.”
Castro said undocumented students often struggle with inaccessibility to financial aid, forcing them to balance multiple jobs in order to remain in school.
“They have to pay state tuition but get no financial aid. That’s around $5,000 a quarter, and most of it is pocket money. The major issue is that lots of students can’t stay because they can’t afford that,” Castro said. “Not being able to afford school, not being able to afford books, students have to work lots of jobs just to be able to go to school, and instead of school being their main focus, they have to focus on juggling so many things.”
As a documented immigrant in the U.S., undeclared first-year Diane Ng said she found it difficult to adjust to the drastic differences in the education system after moving to the U.S. and was unaware of any resources available.
“I already struggle; I had no help at all. It would help to have someone guide me. I sat by myself and panicked because I didn’t know about a lot of events,” Ng said. “It’s a little hard to adapt because of culture differences. I had a different school system than the one here. There was nothing to help me transition from one school to another.”
While the course is informative for all students, Afifi said the course is particularly helpful for struggling undocumented students in the Southern California area.
“My hope was to create a class that took the responsibility of engaging with local and global communities seriously in ways that went far beyond what my other classes had done,” Affifi said.
Afifi said he took an unconventional approach to the class that he hopes will benefit the undocumented community in Santa Barbara rather than teaching a straightforward lecture course.
“I was out of my comfort zone, but it ended up being the most fulfilling class I’ve ever taught,” Afifi said. “My hope was that the students learned, I learned, and that there was real engagement between the undocumented immigrant community and ourselves — that we learned from them and they also ultimately benefited from us.”
According to Afifi, students in the class utilize a mix of research and theory from written text and personal narratives from members of the undocumented immigrant community. Grading in his course differs from most other classes since the class requires not only tests, but volunteer work as well.
“[The class features] midterms, participation, volunteerism with the community and a written product that involves analysis of the focus groups that were completed,” Afifi said.
Castro said Afifi’s course helps bring to light important issues regarding undocumented students that would have otherwise remained unknown to the student body.
“These issues are what’s happening to your peers. The person sitting next to you in class might be an undocumented student working three jobs just to get by,” Castro said. “This class also helps students understand that it’s not just students but people everywhere experiencing the struggles of being undocumented.”
A version of this article appeared on page 4 of January 23rd, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus.