My father entered the United States nearly four decades ago as an undocumented immigrant. For many years, he traveled between states to find work so that he was able to provide for his nine siblings and parents back in Mexico. My experience growing up with a mixed-status family has shown me first-hand the challenges faced by undocumented immigrants. That experience has played a critical role in my professional endeavors, particularly in my current position at Grand Valley State University where I oversee undocumented student initiatives. It was through this work that I was introduced to (what is now known as) the Michigan Coalition for Undocumented Student Success.

With a mission to increase college awareness, access, and participation in postsecondary education for credential completion of students who are affected by undocumented status in Michigan, the Coalition uses a network leadership model to create a knowledge community that is dedicated to undocumented students and their success. Given the ever-changing landscape of policy regarding undocumented youth, it is imperative that we work collaboratively across the state. Our work as educators, practitioners, lawyers, and activists is amplified when we work strategically with one another. By sharing best practices, policies, resources, and updates, we are able to better serve this educationally marginalized student population. 

In July of 2019, the Michigan Coalition for Undocumented Student Success was officially established. Initiated in 2016 by the National Forum on Higher Education for the Public Good at the University of Michigan, a group of individuals came together periodically to discuss the current climate for undocumented students in the state of Michigan. For nearly three years, this group met informally to establish relationships with one another. Representatives from the following groups were invited:

  • Institutions of Higher Education
  • Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration
  • Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC)
  • Hispanic/Latino Commission of Michigan
  • Michigan Alliance of Latinos Moving Towards Advancement (MI ALMA)
  • One Michigan for the Global Majority
  • Michigan College Access Network (MCAN)

Authentic relationships were formed. Individuals from different career sectors shared their expertise. Best practices and resources were dispersed. And from this, a network leadership model was created.

The Coalition is comprised of a diverse leadership team with knowledge from multiple sectors and contains a wealth of knowledge in undocumented student affairs. I have the honor of serving as Chair and although formal positions are held through a leadership team and subcommittee leads, the work is collective. Together, we have created an extensive scholarship list for students and provide ongoing consultations and webinars for external members on best practices. Most significantly, from this group, the Undocumented Guide to College in Michigan was revised, assisting undocumented students, their families, and educators in the college-going process.

It is so incredibly important to remember that our work is informed by the work of others. When we work intentionally, strategically, and collaboratively, we are better equipped at serving the undocumented student. None of us have all of the answers; however, collectively, we are able to accomplish far more. Organizations like Michigan Coalition for Undocumented Student Success exemplify network leadership in action. In an unstipulated state like Michigan with no policy for undocumented student access to higher education, it is easy for students, parents, and educators to be misinformed. In particular, there is little to no room for error when working with undocumented students. This is why multiple perspectives are needed in this ongoing conversation. 

Adriana Almanza is an Assistant Director in the Office of Multicultural Affairs at Grand Valley State University. She serves as chairperson of the Michigan Coalition for Undocumented Student Success.