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Titan Dreamers Resource Center Opens

April 21, 2014

On Wednesday, April 23, a new center will open its doors at Cal State Fullerton.

The Titan Dreamers Resource Center is designed to provide undocumented students with academic and emotional support, referrals to financial assistance, information on programs and services designed to improve retention and graduation rates, and a comforting environment where students can connect with one another.

In fact, Cal State Fullerton is the first university in the CSU system to open such a center.

"Up until now, there has been an organic, dedicated and passionate group of staff and faculty at Cal State Fullerton who have shepherded these students to the programs and services they need," said Berenecea Johnson Eanes, vice president for student affairs. "The opening of the Dream Center serves as a clear indicator of Cal State Fullerton's commitment to the support and success of undocumented students."

While visiting the center, guests can view a timeline of significant campus events and legislation that led to its establishment, and a "Dream Wall" will be posted for visitors to write down their dreams related to the center and the students it will serve.

Many undocumented students have been brought to this country as children, and in many cases, are not aware that they are in the U.S. without a valid immigration status. These students have struggled historically to enroll in colleges and universities across the country. Since 2001, in California undocumented students who meet certain eligibility requirements have been able to enroll in public colleges and universities while paying in-state tuition. In 2011, the California Dream Act was enacted into law permitting eligible undocumented students to benefit from state financial aid.

"I always knew I was undocumented but I didn't really know what that meant," said Ana Celís-Luna, a senior kinesiology major. "I came to America when I was 9 years old, but I had the culture and memories of Mexico embedded in me. As I grew older, I began to understand how this affected me. I couldn't achieve all the milestones my peers did — getting a driver's license, planning for college.

"I thought undocumented meant staying hidden and as more doors were closed to me, I became increasingly mad and disappointed that I wasn't able to pursue a university education, no matter how good my grades were or how hard I tried. I saw how hard my parents worked and how underpaid they were. It irritated me that the media portrayed us as taking advantage of the system."

Not long after Celís-Luna arrived at Cal State Fullerton, she found a group of other undocumented students. "They became like a second family to me," she said.

"I think programs like the Titan Dreamers Resource Center are important because undocumented students often feel alone and overwhelmed," she said. "Having a place to find guidance and access to financial help is so important. Many undocumented students drop out because they can't afford the costs. Support is so critical to our ability to continue and achieve."

Due to graduate in May, she's already landed a job — a position as a physical therapist at the clinic where she is currently an intern. Her first day as a professional will be the Monday following commencement ceremonies.

Eloisa Amador, a senior with a dual major in human services and Chicano and Chicana studies, echoes Celís-Luna's comments. She also was brought into this country at age 9, and Amador says she always feared for her parents.

"Most children don't worry about their parents being deported," she said. "Undocumented children do." In fact, 10 years ago, her brother was deported and she hasn't seen him since.

Working as a dishwasher when she was in high school, she decided she wanted more from her life. When she went to her high school counselor to ask about going to college, she was told to forget it.

"My counselor basically told me there were three reasons I wasn't college material," she said. "First, I was Hispanic and there weren't many Hispanics who went on to college. Secondly, I was a woman and I'd probably just get pregnant. And finally, I was undocumented and wouldn't be able to apply or pay. And this was in 2006!"

Instead, Amador became involved in an Upward Bound program that demonstrated that she was, indeed, college-ready. And they helped her apply.

"My experience at CSUF has been great," she said. "There are a lot of people who have helped me. But there are ups and downs. I don't have a car so that means I spend six hours a day on buses when I have classes. Because nobody in my family has gone to college, I don't always get a lot of support because they don't know how to help me.

"I think that's why programs like the Titan Dreamers Resource Center are so important," she continued. "They can assist with applications and provide an environment that is safe and supportive. They will help you achieve your goals. I'm graduating in May and then going on for a master's degree and eventually a Ph.D."

So much for her counselor's assessment.

"This will be a great resource for undocumented students who can often feel depressed and overwhelmed ... and may drop out of school," Amador said. "With the necessary resources, I think many of these students will be able to go on to be quite successful."

At Cal State Fullerton, approximately 800 AB540 students enrolled for the 2013-14 academic year.

"While the California Dream Act has helped to ease financial concerns, undocumented students still face daunting challenges," said Eanes. "They may still experience stigma associated with their status. Others are ineligible for benefits. These factors combine to create uncertainty that impacts their lives. We hope the Titan Dreamers Resource Center helps address these concerns and facilitate the educational success of these students."

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