Interview with a Peer Counselor

In the spirit of coming out and building your own personal networks, DREAMActivist sat down with a former peer counselor at UCLA, Azadeh G., to ask some pertinent questions.  Read on…

DA: Are there any patterns that you noticed among the undocumented students that you counseled?

AG: A lot of students, especially incoming students, do not understand that a lot of their scholarship or grant money will never actually reach them.  There’s a lot of creative fundraising, especially through houses of worship, random donors, and allies I never expected dedicated to helping undocumented students get an education.  I would advise students getting private scholarships to let committees know exactly what their situation is to get around the system and make sure they receive that money.
DA: What is the best advice you can give an incoming undocumented student?

AG: Understand that, at least in California, counselors are taught, and furthermore not allowed, to make immigration status an issue, least of all report it. While its scary, sharing with counselors helps the counselor give better advice.  While you feel like you don’t want any favors, if you feel comfortable with an instructor, you should share with them. Don’t feel like you’re asking for favors, the point is that you have more allies than you think you do, in places you do not expect.

DA: As a counselor, how did you advise undocumented students on navigating the system, especially at such a big public university?

AG: It is really important to maximize the services that are available to you at your university, whether they be medical services, psychological services, book lending, advising, legal aid, etc. Make yourself aware of the programs available, like writing programs, note=taking programs. Find the major resource centers and actually, physically go there, make an appointment with a counselor, and ask all the questions that occur to you. I would especially recommend mentoring programs. It helps you stay motivated, it gives you networking opportunities, and it gives you allies where you didn’t expect to find them.

DA: What successes did you note among undocumented students that you think set a good precedent for other universities?

AG: It’s important to break the myths of undocumented students. Of the undocumented students with whom I worked, perhaps 40% were Asian or Middle Eastern. People assume undocumented students are of Latino descent, it doesn’t occur to them that many others come on student visas and overstay.  I would encourage people to branch out, and make it a community issue. If you isolate yourself culturally, and think of the issue as a brown issue, or an Asian issue, you will have fewer allies.  Come out to community groups- they don’t have to be political groups, they can just be cultural groups. It’s important to have a broad range of support.

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