Students Build Community and Find Their Futures at WCSU
Danbury is a historic immigrant community with a population that has been continuously refreshed with a rich and vibrant diversity of people from around the world – a notable fact for a community of its size and appreciated by migration scholars internationally.
Danbury is a historic immigrant community with a population that has been continuously refreshed with a rich and vibrant diversity of people from around the world – a notable fact for a community of its size and appreciated by migration scholars internationally. In fact, recent Census data reveals Fairfield County as home to more undocumented people than any other county in the State of Connecticut. This, as sociologists and economists agree, is a sign of the vibrancy and opportunity held within our community.
One of Danbury’s pillar institutions, Western Connecticut State University (WCSU), has been a pivotal place for many local undocumented youth and mixed-status families. In 2010, recent WCSU graduates Carolina and Camila Bortolleto co-founded the statewide, nationally recognized organization Connecticut Students for a Dream (C4D). In 2017, WCSU, in collaboration with C4D, formed the UndocuAlly Task Force. The Task Force pulled together WCSU students and alumni, faculty, staff, and administrators – all of whom have worked to shape the campus culture and ensure that the university fully embraces the community it serves. WCSU is a place where local immigrant and mixed-status families are not only warmly welcomed, but also have a real voice on campus, make huge contributions, and continue to do so.
In the last five years, the UndocuAlly Task Force has focused on two main issues. The first concern was to ensure dignity and respect for immigrant and especially undocumented students and students from mixed-status families throughout the university. To this end, the Task Force rolled out staff trainings, informational sessions, numerous events and courses each semester, as well as student clubs and common reads, reaching out to every person and every part of the university and the greater Danbury region. This shift in culture has been fully embraced by the WCSU and system presidents, as well as by former Gov. Malloy and Gov. Lamont, who are well aware of the larger wave of transformations seen nationwide as the result of hard work by youth from immigrant communities.
The second focus was to address the unique financial concerns of immigrants and especially undocumented students and students from mixed-status families. On this point, WCSU immediately updated forms making scholarships, awards, and financial assistance more accessible. WCSU’s financial aid office ensured clarity on how undocumented students and mixed-status families can and do qualify for in-state tuition, institutional financial aid, and other important information so that students and families may now confidently secure their financial and educational futures – and when things get confusing there are people available to speak to confidentially in Spanish and Portuguese.
The work of the UndocuAlly Task Force is not just being conducted by the university, but by the community, to empower young people and their families. Every year, local students excel at WCSU with the highest honors, and go on to tremendously rewarding careers and professional lives. Many of WCSU’s undocumented alumni and alumni from mixed-status families have gone on to excel in the world of business, become leading community organizers and politicians responsible for developing significant new laws, and engage the community as amazing and sensitive teachers, lawyers, and medical and mental health professionals.
This article was written by Carina Bandhauer, Ph.D., Chair of the Department of Social Sciences at the Western Connecticut State University.