Donations for immigrant students must fund actions, not just words

A group of USC faculty members led by Gould School of Law professor Ariela Gross purchased a full-page advertisement in the Los Angeles Times, which was published on March 23, after raising $22,120 through a GoFundMe account. The advertisement demonstrated public support for immigrant and international students in light of President Donald Trump’s immigration ban and was signed by over 300 USC faculty members. While the advertisement was a step in the right direction toward protecting diversity at USC, more steps, which this funding could have gone toward rather than the advertisement, must be taken so that USC students do not live in fear because of their nationalities or citizenship statuses.

Gross hoped the advertisement would inspire the administration to create resource centers specifically for affected immigrants and to establish legal funds for student citizenship issues they may face. However, to more productively work toward this goal, the funding from the GoFundMe account arguably could have gone toward creating resources for immigrant and undocumented students, spurring the availability of these resources to undocumented students at USC.

According to Gross, the goal of the advertisement was “to urge and support our university administration’s effort to protect our students no matter what happens.” While that is an important message to convey, it is not just the administration’s onus to protect USC students. The administration and USC community both have an obligation to protect the rights of students and ensure access to equal, safe education. In this vein, the funding raised by USC faculty could have been devoted to support organizations offering concrete legal services to undocumented students, rather than merely sending a message, albeit an important one.

It is one thing for USC faculty members to say that they will not accept this type of discrimination against immigrants, and it is something completely different to them to actually provide a solution for the issue. Allocating the money from the GoFundMe account to different on-campus resources would have been a more consequential choice than buying the advertisement. It would directly connect undocumented students in need to the resources they otherwise would not have access to. These actions would, like the advertisement, also publicly convey support for undocumented students, while also serving these students’ needs directly.

One example of what the university faculty could have directed this funding toward is a resource center devoted to providing counseling, support, advisement regarding financial aid and legal assistance to undocumented students. Resource centers for undocumented students exist at many colleges, such as Universities of California as well as the University of Utah, Georgetown University, Harvard University, Western Washington University, San Diego State University, San Francisco State University and the California Polytechnics at San Luis Obispo and Pomona. These centers provide the services low-income undocumented students otherwise would not be able to afford but need in order to safely receive equitable college educations.

Still, the lack of resource centers directly offering legal support for undocumented students on campus does not mean that USC has failed to protect its students. Following the publication of the advertisement, the USC administration has jointly filed, along with other U.S. colleges, an amicus brief in the lawsuit challenging Trump’s immigration ban, supporting its repeal.

The advertisement in the Los Angeles Times is indicative of the bond behind the Trojan Family. However, more concrete action is required. The community must promote discussion and decisively devote funding to programs and resources that international and undocumented students need in order to safely attend USC, and receive an education as meaningful as documented and American peers. USC cannot allow its immigrant and undocumented students to lose their basic human rights, safety and education. Direct assistance through resource centers and legal aid is the way to do that.