Journal of College & University Student Housing Volume 50, No. 2 - 86

Undocumented Student Mattering
. . . this student population has unique identity-based needs, and efforts
to understand their perceptions are not meant to force a problematic
one-size-fits-all model of how to improve their campus experience or
an attempt to erase the cultural reality of familial expectations.
as the improved social integration, cocurricular involvement, and satisfaction that come
from a sense of connection and of mattering (Jacoby & Garland, 2004; Schudde, 2011).
Participants' stories can help practitioners understand what practices may help
undocumented students consider the possibility of living on campus. Institutions can
create purposeful and affordable campus living options for this population, and their
outreach efforts can include their families. It's important to recognize that cost is an
important factor, as the participants in our study emphasized the importance of saving
money by living off campus with their families. One way to address this financial barrier
while tapping into engagement opportunities is for housing professionals to recruit
undocumented students to serve as resident assistants who could receive a free room
and meal plan, which avoids potential issues with receiving a direct paycheck as compensation.
This solution is one way that housing educators can meet the call to better
serve undocumented students (Davidson & Preciado, 2017) while navigating broader
structural realities.
Institutions can also consider creating living-learning communities or designated
floors that center immigrant experiences, including those of undocumented students,
as an avenue to facilitate the identity-based involvement and social connection that
is so closely tied to mattering. When this is not feasible, they should be able to find
other ways to take advantage of campus opportunities that facilitate mattering. We also
offer a word of caution that this student population has unique identity-based needs,
and efforts to understand their perceptions are not meant to force a problematic onesize-fits-all
model of how to improve their campus experience or an attempt to erase
the cultural reality of familial expectations. Rather, educators can be more attentive to
facilitating a sense of mattering in ways that are logistically and culturally relevant.
Participants' stories reinforced the unique identity-based realities that undocumented
college students face. For this reason, campus environments should be shaped
to reflect the cultural backgrounds and identities of all students, which is especially
pressing for undocumented Latinx students (Shelton, 2019). The participants' emphasis
on family reveals how much they value collectivism and community and illustrates
the intersections of identities connected to class, language, immigration status, and
culture (Shelton, 2019).
In addition to the need to live at home with family, our participants explicitly noted
how their family's immigration status related to financial challenges and how being
low income created barriers to certain types of work and financial support. Living on
campus was perceived as an extra expense that could be avoided by living at home.
These realities are complex and nuanced given that they are rooted in culture as well
as the broader immigration climate. An awareness of these realities is important in
forming culturally relevant and responsive practices that consider circumstances and
needs and move beyond majoritized student experiences.
Volume 50, No. 2 * 2024 83

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