A collection of stories from undocumented students detailing their experiences at UNC:
UNC was my dream school. I fell in love with it even before I started high school. Why? Because the people I met during summer programs made me feel safe and welcome; because I knew I wanted to attend an institution where I could grow intellectually and socially; because being at UNC felt like a home. However, little did I know that attaining my goal of becoming a Tar Heel one day would be so mentally and emotionally draining and challenging.I always knew I was undocumented, but I never realized what that would entail in regards to college. I knew I could not receive financial aid, but I never thought financial stress would become such a burden on me and my family. More importantly, I knew the majority of undocumented students never made it to college, but I did not understand the real reason behind that fact. At UNC, I found people who were willing to talk to me about my status, but not enough answers. I felt accepted, but not fully guided in terms of where to go and who to talk to.Thankfully, I qualified for a privately funded, merit-based scholarship at UNC that, combined with the Golden Door Scholarship, allowed me to attend at no cost to my family. When I found out I would be able to go to UNC, I was ecstatic. My dream was becoming a reality. However, when I got to UNC, I very quickly realized being an undocumented student in college poses unique challenges. For the first time, I realized that there are many people at UNC who are either ignorant about the issue or blatantly discriminatory toward undocumented immigrants. I felt that my existence and humanity was being denied by others who did not understand what it takes to leave everything behind and risk your life simply to cross a man-made border in hopes of a better life. My time at UNC proved to be full of unforeseen challenges and tribulations. I had to live with the fear that my parents were at risk of deportation. The unwillingness of some of my peers to accept me become a constant struggle, affecting my mental health and self-worth. It became burdensome to try to explain over and over why my family cannot simply “become legal” or “get in line.” The barriers that exist for study abroad and internships awakened me to a new reality: being an undocumented student in college meant unique and unforeseen challenges.I was able to succeed and persevere thanks to some individuals that understood my status and connected me to resources. However, these resources were not easy to find. I had to learn how to navigate the university system and find places where my status would not disqualify me. I was forced to find the key, while everyone else was seemed to be told where it was. The love for my family, the new awareness I gained in college, and my deep commitment to my community and social justice kept me going to find opportunities for myself and others in similar circumstances. Getting to UNC was a dream come true, but graduating proved to be a wake up call to the fact that colleges need to address the unique socio-emotional, legal, and financial challenges faced by undocumented students.
– UNC Alumnus, Class of 2017, History Major
I came into my first year at UNC with the huge burden of having to pay for my tuition out of pocket with very few outside scholarships. Because I was the first child, my family and I didn’t know what resources were available to undocumented students. My parents and I struggled to pay for my tuition during the school year, even though we were all working two or more jobs.Out of sheer frustration and stress, I went to my favorite professor’s office hours and poured out my story to her. Stepping out of my comfort zone and talking to my professor became a breakthrough moment for me, and even though she didn’t know how to help me in my situation specifically, but she connected me to administrators and faculty members she thought could help. As I talked to more and more people about my status and situation, I realized how important it was that I shared my story whenever I felt comfortable because there were students, faculty, and staff who were willing to listen and help.The people I shared my story with became allies who were willing to go to great lengths to help me succeed. I found allies in the clubs I had joined, my major department, Counseling and Psychological Services, the Global Center, and most importantly, the Office of Scholarships and Student Aid. I even found other undocumented students who were so supportive and understanding of my struggle in paying for school.By the end of my freshman year at UNC, I received private scholarship money that covered most of my tuition and fees for the rest of my undergraduate career. I came into my sophomore year of college with the time to actually study for my classes and work on things I was interested in. The most helpful thing for me as an undocumented student was to be courageous enough to tell people at UNC about my situation. Sharing my story became my greatest tool in finding a community of people who cared about me.
– UNC Alumnus, Class of 2018, Philosophy and Political Science Major