Op-Ed: Time for The Fletcher School to reflect on inclusion

The elephant head statue that adorns the entrance to Dowling Hall, home of the Career Center, is pictured on Aug 20, 2014. Nicholas Pfosi / The Tufts Daily Archive

As the current administration puts forth a plan to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, we at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy have an opportunity to ask ourselves where we stand regarding students with undocumented status and students with DACA status. To what extent are we inclusive to prospective students who are either living in the United States with temporary protection against deportation or without any documentation at all?

According to the admissions office, no students with undocumented or DACA status have ever enrolled at The Fletcher School. According to administrators, this is not due to an exclusionary policy; in fact, the Fletcher admissions process is open to everyone, regardless of status. The admissions office even provides one-on-one support to students with undocumented or DACA status who call in asking for guidance. Students with DACA status have applied to Fletcher in the past and been accepted. However, no students with undocumented or DACA status have ever enrolled. Why have students with undocumented status never enrolled? Is Fletcher doing enough to be inclusive?

  1. The Fletcher School cares about including students with undocumented status.

There is much evidence that Fletcher students, faculty and staff care about the rights of students with undocumented status. First, a handful of Fletcher students participated in a recent rally at Tufts University to protest the Trump administration’s decision to end DACA, and dozens more current Fletcher students indicated on the Facebook page for the protest that they were “Interested” in the event. Second, Professor Daniel Drezner recently published an op-ed in The Washington Post entitled “Seven ways of looking at Trump’s DACA decision,” which describes the way that the Trump administration intends to end DACA as cruel and exposes that the majority of American voters (58 percent) support DACA. Third, diversity of the student body is important to Fletcher Admissions, and the admissions website states that “The Fletcher School is committed to enrolling a class that reflects the economic and racial diversity of the U.S.”

  1. If the Fletcher School cares about students with undocumented status, then this commitment ought to be presented in concrete ways in its enrollment and financial aid policies.

According to a recent Pew study, in 2015 there were 11 million immigrants with undocumented status in the United States. A rising number of these immigrants have been in the United States for over a decade, and many were childhood arrivals. Of these childhood arrivals, only a fraction (around 800,000) have DACA status. Significant numbers of childhood arrivals are in a difficult situation when they apply for college and graduate school in the United States, as some have precarious DACA status, and others are completely without documentation. The Trump administration intends to end DACA, which will make it even harder for students without documentation to pursue higher education.

Many universities have taken action to not only accept students with undocumented and DACA status, but to make enrolling and attending their universities a realistic option. Tufts University, for example, decided in 2015 to accept students with undocumented status and provide them financial aid. As University President Anthony Monaco stated, this decision was “in keeping with Tufts’ long-held values of inclusion and access.” For Tufts to make this change, they needed to do more than change their admissions policies. They pledged financial aid packages specific to students with DACA and undocumented status, created a working group to encourage campus-wide support and admissions began to actively recruit students with DACA and undocumented status. As a result, Tufts has made great progress towards being a more inclusive university. By contrast, The Fletcher School is still at the stage of simply not having an exclusionary policy — which the numbers show, is not sufficient. If Fletcher students, faculty and staff care about the school being inclusive, actions must be taken to make enrollment realistic for students with DACA and undocumented status.

  1. Next Steps

Discussion: The first step for The Fletcher School is to create opportunities for students, faculty and staff to come together to discuss this issue. These discussions can re-evaluate Fletcher’s commitment to inclusivity, and consider what it really means to fulfill the commitment to enroll “a class that reflects the economic and racial diversity of the U.S.” Further, these discussions can begin to explore the many blockages that might be preventing students with DACA and undocumented status from enrolling, and brainstorm solutions. (It should be noted that students with DACA and undocumented status from Tufts University and other local graduate schools must be present in these meetings.)

Commitment: The second step for the Fletcher community could be to meet with Tufts University admissions and with the campus group Tufts United for Immigrant Justice, to explore how The Fletcher School can join Tufts University in its commitment to students with DACA and undocumented status.

Action: Following the Tufts model, Fletcher can set up a working group to explore how to build capacity to support students with DACA and undocumented status. The Fletcher administration can look into establishing scholarship funds specifically for domestic students with undocumented status, and the admissions office can make plans for more active outreach and recruitment.

Sasha Lipton Galbraith