Around 30 students gathered inside the Asian American Activities Center for the first meeting of the Student Immigration Empowerment Project at Stanford (SIEPS). The new student group, officially established last quarter, seeks to give a voice to the immigrant community at and around Stanford.
According to club president Adrian Gonzalez ’21, the organization was envisioned in part after his transition to Stanford as a freshman, during which he felt there was a lack of space for students with immigrant backgrounds.
“Yes, some groups try to incorporate it here and there, but I think that an issue deserves something bigger than that,” Gonzalez said at the meeting. “Undocumented students specifically — when have you ever met one? When have you ever seen people provide that voice here?”
Gonzalez also cited the current political tension in the immigration debate as an impetus for the club’s founding.
“Look at the political climate today,” Gonzalez said. “It’s kind of sad at times that an institution like this isn’t at the forefront when you got kids in cages, [the] Muslim ban, Southeast Asian immigrants being deported — things that affect the students here — and not a lot is being done about it.”
Gonzalez emphasized that he wants the organization to be inclusive of all immigrant communities.
“One of the big things we want to do is not make this a Latino group,” said Gonzalez, who is Mexican. “I think the Latino narrative, specifically the Mexican narrative, takes up a lot of the space,”
In addition to on-campus storytelling panels, discussions and workshops, SIEPS aims to reach out to immigrant communities outside of Stanford. Specifically, the group’s focus for the remainder of the year is developing a partnership with Upward Scholars and its executive director, Dr. Linda Prieto ’97. Upward Scholars is a small non-profit organization based in Redwood City dedicated to helping adult students with an immigrant backgrounds overcome the financial and academic barriers of a college education.
“We work with many students who are immigrants to this country, documented or undocumented, [who] are on a path to try to improve their situation in this country through the acquisition of English, which is our focus,” Prieto said.
Upward Scholars helps students with the financial costs associated with attending college classes, including books, transportation and meals. SIEPS hopes to helps Upward Scholars with its one-to-one tutoring program by registering its members as tutors.
“Our goal is to be able to provide each student who wants a tutor with a tutor who will commit to meet with them at least once a week,” said Prieto. “Every year, we have had students from Stanford and hope to expand this relationship.”
To show SIEPS the impact Upward Scholars has on its students, Prieto brought with her Luis Romero, a program participant originally from Guatemala. Romero shared to the group how Upward Scholars has made him successful at Cañada College.
“Upward really changed my life,” Romero said. “When I started taking English classes, I just wanted to learn the language, but through this system, I learned some history, I learned some morals, I learned how to be a good citizen.”
After hearing his story, several students in attendance, along with Prieto, began brainstorming and suggesting other ways to help Upward Scholars in addition to becoming a tutor. Suggestions included on-campus fundraisers to benefit Upward Scholars and tutoring through video chat. Romero closed SIEPS’s inaugural meeting by explaining how much students’ involvement in the program means to him.
“I thought, ‘wow, someone at Stanford is helping me out,’” said Romero. “That had a huge impact on me … Perhaps I can’t enroll here, but someone who could was trying to help me. Just knowing that you attend Stanford — that is really inspiring.”
Contact Patrick Monreal at pmonreal ‘at’ stanford.edu.