Educational Studies Project Explores Undocumented and DACA Student Experience

Elaine Allard '01

Assistant Professor of Educational Studies Elaine Allard '01

Sanctuary should mean working to ensure that every student receives the same opportunities to learn, live, and enjoy full membership in the College community.

That commitment, proposed by the Sanctuary Campus Working Group at a faculty meeting last year, sparked a brainstorm for Assistant Professor of Educational Studies Elaine Allard '01

“I wanted to find a research project that would look at Latino education within the current context of heightened xenophobia, anti-Latino rhetoric, and quickly shifting immigration policy,” Allard says. “The working group’s expanded definition of sanctuary got me thinking. To what extent do our undocumented and DACA students experience full membership in the campus community? And what can we do to enhance that?”   

Allard explored that theme with students from her Latinos and Education (EDUC 153) research seminar this year, collecting qualitative data and focusing readings and discussions on the undocumented and DACA student experience at Swarthmore and across the U.S.

The primary result was Sanctuary in Practice, a short film in which the class shared its findings through interviews with College community members.

"Many staff and faculty were already putting this expanded notion of sanctuary into practice,” Allard says, “doing interesting things to support their students that others probably didn’t know about.”

Allard and the students hoped the film would encourage other staff and faculty to consider how they might support undocumented and DACA students. But it also proved useful for affected students.

“This summer I spoke to a DACA student who said the film had introduced him to a professor who he hadn’t known was an ally,” says Allard. “He got in touch, and now they have a mentoring relationship.”

“That was really gratifying,” she adds, noting the film also drew positive feedback from faculty and students when screened at the Searching for Sanctuary symposium in May.

The students conducted seven interviews with faculty and staff and three with DACA students, administered an anonymous questionnaire, and analyzed various documents in the course of their research. For Sydnie Schwarz ’20, it was an eye-opening experience, to the point that she can’t remember not being immersed in Latinxs and education.

“I’ve become more familiar with the history of education legislation, particular models of culturally engaged or additive education, and the challenges undocumented students face,” says the sociology & anthropology major from Raleigh, N.C.

“Since ‘sanctuary campus’ does not have a strict definition,” she adds, “it really is defined by how individuals on our campus create it.”

Aside from the video, produced by seminar participant Rebecca Castillo ’20, of Azusa, Calif., the project also led to an article, co-authored by Allard and five of the seminar students (Jonathan Hamel Sellman ’19, a political science and educational studies major from West Newton, Mass.; Brandon Torres '18, who graduated with a special major in English literature and educational studies; Freddy Bernardino ’18, who graduated with a special major in Latin American studies and educational studies; Schwarz, and Castillo) that will be published in a peer-reviewed education journal in December. It draws on narratives collected in the anonymous questionnaire and follow-up interviews to discuss undocumented and DACA student experiences on a sanctuary campus.

Additionally, Allard and Hamel Sellman have submitted a proposal to present on the sanctuary declaration as a symbolic educational policy at next year’s American Educational Research Association meetings.

“So the project has been very productive from a research standpoint,” Allard says. “More importantly, I hope it can also help the Swarthmore community move toward our goal of full community inclusion for all students, regardless of status.”