Cameron Pollack / Sun File Photo

Students and community march at a Cornell DREAM Team protest in 2017. For years, the DREAM Team has pushed for greater institutional support for undocumented and DACA students.

October 18, 2020

Administrative Vacancies Leave Undocumented and DACA Students Without Institutional Support

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Cornell’s undocumented and DACA community has been navigating the coronavirus crisis that has uprooted students’ jobs and futures — without dedicated administrative staff to lean on for support.

The Associate Director for Undocumented and DACA Students, a position fought for by student advocates, has been vacant for the past nine months, meaning the University has no staff solely dedicated to supporting this group of students.

Previously filled by Diana Castellanos, who left Cornell in February, the University hopes to fill the position by spring 2021, according to the DREAM Team, a student organization that works to empower and support undocumented students.

“Though we’ve been helped by the first-gen low-income office, the law school’s legal clinic and several trusted professors, there is still little structural support for undocumented students on this campus,” the DREAM Team said.

Further up the identity resources ladder, Vijay Pendakur, the previous dean of students, departed from Cornell in September, leaving the position filled by interim administrator Marla Love. Pendakur had focused specifically on supporting first-generation, low-income and undocumented students during his time at Cornell.

In addition to these vacancies, the DREAM Team has often advocated for increased training for faculty and staff supporting undocumented and DACA students. But as of now, they said they feel that Cornell does not provide enough, particularly for Counseling and Psychological Services and the Office of Financial Aid.

The associate director is the primary point of contact for undocumented and DACA students, a position that oversees the Cornell Committee Supporting Undocumented Students, and provides programs focused on addressing the uncertainties undocumented students face when they transition to Cornell.

As these staffing gaps leave undocumented and DACA students demanding support, financial aid delays have further burdened the community without Cornell staff dedicated to its unique needs.

“Across the board, people have been struggling with financial aid and with security and support from the University in general,” said George Defendini, co-president of La Asociación Latina. “If you apply that fact to a lot of these people in the undocumented community, it’s magnified.

“A lot of resources that are offered to traditional or registered undocumented students and citizens are not to them, and that can be challenging,” Defendini continued.

Undocumented students have historically been denied resources and rights, and the pandemic has further complicated their futures.

“There are still no pathways for undocumented students to figure out employment and funding,” the DREAM Team said. “COVID has increased the support undocumented students need from the institution, and there’s much to be done.”