Two BYU students are making a difference by helping create a space of belonging for undocumented students at BYU.
Nori Gomez, a senior studying sociology, and Nadia Terrón, a recent graduate from advertising, are fellow Dreamers who have channeled their own experiences to create a more welcoming environment for undocumented students at BYU. With the help of the International Student and Scholar Services office, the two students have compiled resources for Dreamers and helped spread the message that undocumented students belong at BYU.
Dreamer is a term used to define undocumented students who reside in the U.S. but don’t have lawful status. It comes from the Dream Act, a bill that has been in Congress for 21 years and has never been passed.
Gomez and Terrón work as Dreamer liaisons for the International Student and Scholar Services. As liaisons, they have drastically improved the support available for dreamers. They have spoken to groups and put up booths on campus to help humanize the story of immigrants.
“Because no one else on campus is really talking about it, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to do something,” Gomez said.
However, Gomez and Terrón believe the biggest help they can offer undocumented students is an understanding community.
Although the International Student and Scholar Services office doesn’t actively track undocumented students, they estimate 300-400 students at BYU are undocumented. According to Gomes and Terrón, who came to the U.S. as kids and are undocumented, being a Dreamer is a lonely and stressful experience for students.
“There are undocumented students that can’t work or are having trouble paying for school, and that’s an added stress to whatever is already stressful,” Terrón said.
Undocumented students face stresses other students don’t have to deal with. They are unable to receive government aid, they can’t legally work and they face discrimination.
According to Terrón and Gomez, this experience makes students feel lonely because they don’t feel they can confide in someone about their struggles. This is something the two students wanted to change and help others know there are safe places at BYU where they can talk without judgment.
The two students have worked to create conversations around campus and teach faculty and students about how to be inclusive of undocumented students.
One of the things they have implemented to facilitate belonging on campus is to provide images of a monarch butterfly for students to use or for the faculty to put in their office windows so Dreamers know they have someone to speak to.
This has been a very successful effort according to Sam Brown Director of the International Student and Scholar Services office.
Brown said they have had students walking by and after seeing the monarch butterfly, they knew it meant they could talk safely to the people in the office.
Gomez and Terrón have also organized lunch gatherings and events so students can find support and friends. Another massive achievement for the liaisons was creating the BYU Dreamers website.
This website holds resources for allies and Dreamers. Undocumented students can find scholarships, legal help, counseling and community resources.
Allies of undocumented students can find publications to learn more about Dreamers and the Dreamer butterfly graphic and professors can find a copy of a supportive ally statement to include in their class syllabus.
“We are really proud of the website,” Gomez said.
Gomez and Terrón’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. The two women will be traveling to Washington, D.C. on June to go to a celebration of the 10th anniversary of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program they have been able to be a part of.
At this celebration, they will also get the chance to share their own stories, as well as hear from others, talk with Congress members and continue to advocate for undocumented immigrants.
“In order for things to move forward and for me to have a future, I need to educate people and create awareness of these issues,” Terrón said. “That’s all I can do at this point”
Both Gomez and Terrón moved to the U.S. at a young age with their families. They have each seen and experienced in their personal lives the hardship of being an undocumented immigrant.
Gomez said as she grew up in Utah, she experienced hearing many hurtful comments about immigrants. She heard people say immigrants should just go home and that all they did was bring crime to the country.
“When you hear people say things that are dehumanizing, they start to take a toll,” Gomez said.
Terrón shared that she kept this detail of her life secret and never told anyone that she was undocumented. She said she struggled to find belonging on campus when she first came to BYU.
Both the women experienced the loneliness and fear that they want to prevent other Dreamers from experiencing.
“People associate (Dreamers) a lot with politics and forget that these are humans and individuals who have families and want to contribute to society like anybody else,” Terrón said.
Gomez and Terrón hope to continue to make a difference and create change for dreamers in their personal lives.