UCLA study reveals high levels of stress among undocumented students
By Roberto Luna Jr.
Jan. 30, 2015 2:01 a.m.
A study released Monday by three UCLA professors showed that undocumented college students have higher anxiety levels than those of students who are legal residents because some may fear deportation and have extreme concerns about financing their college education.
The UndocuScholars Research Team – led by professors of education Robert Teranishi and Carola Suárez-Orozco, as well as Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, dean of UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies – conducted the study alongside student advocacy and research organizations.
The survey asked 909 undocumented students from 55 countries of origin about their college experiences, such as their majors, GPA, internships and concerns about finances and deportation. The students attended two-year community colleges or four-year public or private universities.
The study aims to provide a look at undocumented students throughout the country and the challenges they face, Teranishi said.
The study found that 28.5 percent of men surveyed had an anxiety score above the clinical cutoff level while 36.7 percent of women participants had a score above the clinical cutoff level, when compared to 4 percent and 9 percent, respectively, of the resident population.
“You live in fear, and you have to be conscious and be careful to not get in trouble with the law,” said Pavitee Peumsang, a member of the student advisory board of the study and a formerly undocumented student.
According to the survey, more than three-fourths of students participating reported worries about being detained or deported, and 56.7 percent reported being extremely concerned about financial problems.
“I took on three jobs to save up for college,” said Peumsang, a fourth-year sociology student. “And there is always an uncertainty of what can happen because anything can happen one day to the next.”
Student organizations such as Improving Dreams, Equality, Access and Success, a social community and advocacy group for undocumented students at UCLA, worked to spread the word about the survey by talking to students from different institutions and promoting the survey using social media.
Oscar Rodriguez, one of the students who participated in the UndocuScholars Summer Undergraduate Research Program, said he had the chance to do research from the findings in the survey about the different kinds of trauma undocumented students experience.
Rodriguez, a fourth-year gender studies student, said his research suggested that undocumented students are expected to be the perfect DREAMer student, and many of them are left behind and overlooked, especially if they aren’t helped by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program or if they go to community college.
Among the various resources undocumented students have at UCLA are IDEAS, where they can speak to other undocumented students, and the Undocumented Student Program at the Bruin Resource Center, which provides counseling and relief to undocumented students.
Angela Chen, director of the Undocumented Student Program, said she believes the program’s goal is to provide holistic services to undocumented students and build campus partners to serve undergraduate and graduate undocumented students.
Chen said the program has been evolving as the undocumented demographic at UCLA has increased. The program began implementing different programs to talk to staff and students about the matter and to provide relief to undocumented students.
The Mariposa Achievement Project, implemented by the Undocumented Student Program in spring, doubled its staff from four to eight and has provided textbooks, food and transportation to undocumented students.
The next goal of the UndocuScholars Research Team is to share the results of this study with different policy makers and institutions.
“We plan on taking this report, analyzing it and to not just use it as research data, but also apply it,” Peumsang said.