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Saturday, May 25, 2024
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UB professor highlights undocumented students' forgotten narrative: joy

Stephen Santa-Ramirez describes the perseverance of individuals who are told they don’t belong.

<p>A bridge on North Campus displays a message promoting inclusion. | Photo courtesy of Newsweek.</p>

A bridge on North Campus displays a message promoting inclusion. | Photo courtesy of Newsweek.

Stephen Santa-Ramirez is not undocumented, but the experience of undocumented Americans is not new to him. Growing up, the UB higher education professor watched his stepfather face the challenges of living under the radar. 

“I remember me being asked to drive more when I got my license at 16. Because at least I was a citizen,” Santa-Ramirez said. “Even if he was in the car, I would probably be the only one that's asked for my license or registration.”

His stepfather spent much of his time in what most would call a man cave. But it was more than that: it was a place to hide. 

“Society’s saying ‘you don't belong here,’ and even within a household that was supposed to be his safe place constantly, he made the basement into a place that he can even hide further,” he said.

Alongside Kayon A. Hall, a professor at Kent State University, Santa-Ramiez recently co-wrote a journal article detailing the joy experienced by undocumented university students. The article, published by John Hopkins University Press, is titled, “UndocuJoy as Resistance: Beyond Gloom and Doom Narratives of Undocumented Collegians.”

Santa-Ramirez saw the narrative of joy missing within empirical literature about undocumented students.

“These are real people who are embracing joy just like everybody else,” he said. “They have more experiences that aren't just rooted in pain.” 

Santa-Ramirez was inspired by “UndocuJoy,” a poem by creative artist and poet Yosimar Reyes, who is undocumented. Santa-Ramirez finds the whole poem to be powerful, but he says one section stands out: “I love my undocumented people because being undocumented is not political. It is not physical. It is a condition created to keep us from smiling. But look at us, thriving.”

“The narrative of the undocumented immigrant in this country is being othered all day long. We recognize that some people think we don't belong in this space for XYZ reasons. But you know what? We're still going to do good. We're still not going to hate people,” he said. “We're not going to wish that other people don't have equitable access to things. And we're gonna make a way out of no way.”

Undocumented students face the fear of deportation, in addition to poor employment opportunities due to a lack of working visas. Their living situations are subject to the nation’s political impulses. 

When the Obama administration enacted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in 2012, it released individuals from the fear of deportation and provided Social Security numbers so they could apply for work permits. The Trump administration ended the program, and the Biden administration reinstated it. A Texas judge has since blocked any new applications, leaving students to enter college without DACA’s protection.

SUNY encourages undocumented and DACA students to apply, but the number of undocumented students at UB was unclear at the time of publication. Santa-Ramirez says the university needs to do more to support undocumented students if it wants to consider itself a sanctuary campus.

“It's not only UB — a lot of folks think, ‘I want to be inclusive, I love being inclusive,’ so they use the term sanctuary,” he said. “But, if there are no policies in place to make the term a reality, then you're just using a word.”

Santa-Ramirez would like to see UB implement programs like TheDream.US, which currently partners with 21 New York colleges to provide scholarships and funding to undocumented students. In addition, he'd like to see UB implement policies such as forbidding federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents on campus.

Sarah Owusu is a news editor and can be reached at 


Sarah Owusu is an assistant news editor at The Spectrum. In her free time she enjoys reading, baking, music and talking politics (yes, shockingly). She'll also be her own hairdresser when she needs a change. 



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