By: Maria Monteros
On every corkboard and poster wall on campus, Sara Hopkins and her team of counselors put up signs on campus inviting DACA and minority students to join their support groups.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients are just as likely to enroll in college as the average American aged 15-32 at 18 percent versus 20 percent, a 2017 study from the Migration Policy Institute indicated. However, only 4 percent end up graduating compared to the 18 percent national average, the study states.
In response, the counseling center has begun training counselors to handle multicultural issues. They’ve also partnered with various organizations on campus such as Futuro and the Diversity Council in holding talks and providing the space for these conversations to happen, said Hopkins, director of counseling services at Trevecca.
Trevecca currently has about 100 DACA students, according to university President Dan Boone. As the numbers grow, Hopkins said the counseling center has become more proactive in reaching out to DACA students.
“We try to be as intentional as we can with our DACA students,” said Hopkins. “I want all of the counselors that work in our center to understand, as well as they can, the complex issues that might face some of our DACA students.”
Minorities in White Spaces is support group formed three years ago as part of the effort to support racially diverse students as they adjust to college life. The counseling center also works closely with the Diversity Council as they identified students at risk of dropping out in 2018.
Colleges and universities across the country recognize the barriers and expanded programs to support undocumented students in achieving their educational goals— such as the University of California at Berkeley, Davidson College and the University of Michigan.
Hopkins said Trevecca’s counseling center now has 33 counselors up from five nine years ago due to the demand for professional help. In extreme cases, undocumented students may be referred to outside resources when they need more specialized or long-term treatment.
Maria Robles, a Trevecca graduate with social justice degree, said DACA students like herself often find it difficult to fit mental health management into their schedule because most of them work and live off campus with parents.
To some students, counseling services in universities may be the most accessible and affordable way to keep their mental health in check, she said.
“I was hoping to get some mindfulness, and maybe, get some of my trauma worked through,” said Robles. “I feel like counseling would help me sort through that and not get so burned out so easily.”
Some first-generation immigrants face mental health issues like posttraumatic stress disorder, major depression or anxiety that universities may not have the resources to handle, said Laila Ashkazari, a Nashville-based bilingual mental health counselor at Family and Children’s Service, whose clients are often asylum seekers and first-generation immigrants.
“At a college or university, you need to be able to hire a full-time staff that is salaried, who has full-time experience in trauma,” she said. “I know they just don’t have it in their budget.”
While most universities offer counseling services, Ashkazari said they tend to focus on more common issues such as homesickness, identity crisis and general anxiety.
Hopkins said the cases counseling centers handle across universities have evolved over the last few years. While having more specialized support for DACA students is ideal, she said the university does its best with the resources available.
“I think that’s misnomer individuals have about college counseling,” said Hopkins. “To me that invalidates the complexity of the students that we have on our campuses now.”
For Yenin Echeverria, however, talking to a close friend or a mentor is preferable over mental health professionals.
“I remember talking to a counselor and her telling me that because I was not from here that I wasn’t going to go to college,” said Echeverria, a DACA recipient currently a senior communication studies major at Trevecca. “I’m in college right now about to graduate.”
As students await the Supreme Court’s decision regarding DACA between March-June, Echeverria said the uncertainty has caused stress among family members and friends.
“I love school, and I love coming here, but you’re also risking your life, at the same time, if you’re driving far away,” she said. “It was a big deal here in Nashville when ICE (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement) was starting to pull more people over.”
Sometimes, meeting a counselor that speaks the language or comes from a similar background may be easier for some undocumented students to talk about their issues more freely, Hopkins said.
“In general, we are looking for people that we perceive as safe. We are looking for people that show us signs that they are going to accept us and accept our stories,” she said. “To me, what is important for our DACA students is that you find somebody; you find a community you feel safe with.”
The counseling center currently does not keep track of the demographic that uses their services.
Besides the initial trouble of finding a safe space, Echeverria and Robles both found faculty and staff members who were willing to listen to their concerns.
“It’s definitely been a rollercoaster,” Robles said. “I’m blessed with a good family— a family that listens… Some days there would be bigger waves than others, but I know I’ll get through it.”