Undocumented Students Reflect on Pomona Admissions and College Experience

Sitting in Pomona College’s Coop Fountain on a Sunday evening, Paola Reyes PO ’17 recalled a time when the scene was not so familiar: her first visit to campus as a prospective undocumented student.

“After visiting Pomona, I couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else,” Reyes recalled.  

She remembered wondering, “Will I get to be at Pomona for the next four years? Will this opportunity just slip out of my hands? Or will it be my reality for the next four years?”

Although Reyes has lived in the United States since the age of seven after moving from Guatemala, she faced a very different college application process from that of her peers: Many colleges and universities discourage undocumented students from applying, while others place undocumented students in the more competitive international pool, often offering little or no financial aid if they are accepted. Reyes has since gained Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, a temporary, two-year documentation through the government program of the same name.

Kim Rojas PO ’17, an undocumented student, said that during the admissions process “everything is so uncertain.”

“It’s just stressful because you’re going through a lot of ropes that your friends aren’t going through that make you question a lot about who you are and if you really belong,” Rojas said, “and if you’re not accepted to the school, what are you going to do?” 

Pomona’s admissions policy, however, considers all students who graduate from U.S. high schools as domestic students for both admissions and financial aid purposes, including undocumented or DACA-status applicants. Pomona also covers 100 percent of their demonstrated need, as it does for all accepted students.

In an email to TSL, Vice President and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Seth Allen wrote that this policy “allows the admissions office to more closely follow the College’s guiding policy statement on admissions,” which states, “The College’s student body should … represent a rich cross-section of backgrounds, talents, experiences and perspectives.”

Although the college’s equal treatment of undocumented students has been in place for several years, Pomona made it much more public this semester by detailing it on an information page dedicated to undocumented and DACA-status applicants on the college website.

Rojas, who came to the United States from Mexico at the age of two and currently lives in Park City, Ill., remembers having to personally contact many colleges to try to find out what their policies were, creating an Excel sheet to keep track of whether they would consider her, whether she would be treated as international or domestic and whether she would be considered for financial aid.  

Vice President and Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum said that Pomona is unique in that it does not implement a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” approach that many other colleges do.

Feldblum said that many colleges seem to be telling undocumented students, “Well, if you have some issue then let us know, maybe, but we’re not going to put out the welcome sign and reach out to you saying, ‘How are you doing? What do you need? Here’s some things that students prior to you have said that could be really useful to know.’”

All undocumented and DACA students are invited to a welcome reception upon arrival to campus, where they are offered the opportunity to be matched with a mentor. Improving Dreams, Equality, Access and Success (IDEAS), a 5C organization, also supports immigrants through “social networks, academic resources, and financial support,” according to the group’s page on CollegiateLink. Reyes is the group’s president, and Rojas is an active member.

“If there was ever a time where I needed some help because of my undocumented status, I received it from Pomona,” said South Campus Representative Aldair Arriola-Gomez PO ’17, an undocumented student who left Mexico at the age of eight. “It feels good; it’s kind of like someone has your back.”

A Pomona sophomore who requested anonymity to keep her family’s status private said that she emigrated from South Korea legally at the age of six but became undocumented eight years ago after the failure of her parents’ business left them unable to afford visa renewals. She said that the administration has gone above and beyond to support her financially.

When she had to pay almost $400 to apply to renew her DACA status over the summer, Pomona covered the costs. 

“That kind of financial assistance is probably unheard of,” she said. 

Despite satisfaction with Pomona’s high level of institutional support, the students who spoke with TSL expressed hope that the experience of undocumented students can grow to be more recognized and talked about on campus. 

Arriola-Gomez said that there is an “invisible community.”

“I think a lot of people don’t really know that there’s a presence of undocumented students on campus, or at least don’t really know what being undocumented is,” Arriola-Gomez said. “I like to think that there’s awareness for a lot of other things, and it just seems like being undocumented is kind of left out.”

The sophomore from South Korea said she wished that there was more awareness of the diversity of undocumented students’ experiences.

“I think there definitely should be awareness that being undocumented is not just a Latino or Latina problem,” she said. “I personally struggle with the whole ‘not-a-minority’ thing … People see me, and they would never, never imagine that, hey, what if you could be undocumented?”

Moving forward, Reyes said that members of IDEAS are hoping to persuade the other Claremont Colleges to change their admissions and financial aid policies toward undocumented students to make the schools more accessible to those students. 

“It’s going to become, hopefully, a really big movement,” Reyes said. “And hopefully we get at least one other school to change their policy. It would be a lot of progress toward something very good.”

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