College Presidents with Undocumented Students Series #1: President Brian Murphy of De Anza College



Equity in higher education for undocumented students is a civil and human rights issue. The United States has restricted access to an affordable college education for undocumented students and perpetuated exclusionary campus climates. Across the country, undocumented youth and their families have been the leading advocates for change and liberation. Working with and for undocumented students, some college staff, faculty, and administrators have been allies for change. Presidents of colleges can play a particularly influential role in making change.

The UndocuScholars team at the Institute for Immigration, Globalization, and Education at UCLA met with a leader in the field, President Brian Murphy of De Anza College, on May 14, 2018 to learn more about his work with undocumented students. De Anza College is a community college in Cupertino, California close to San Jose, Silicon Valley, and the San Francisco Bay Area. Community colleges are particularly important institutions because the majority of undocumented students in college go to community colleges. Our team also met with the undocumented student group HEFAS (Higher Education for AB 540 Students) to learn more about their leadership in creating change for undocumented students at De Anza College.

Check out the video we created about President Murphy, HEFAS, and the undocumented student community at De Anza!

Programs for Undocumented Students at De Anza College

De Anza has about 20,000 to 21,000 students total. At least 1500 of those students are undocumented and another 2000 students have undocumented family members. President Murphy says, “There’s a group of them who are formally registered under DACA, though probably a larger number that are not. So among the 6000 Mexican American students who are at the college, 1500 Filipino students, 1000 Korean American students, there are many undocumented persons or in families where they are undocumented people. It’s a very large and significant part of our student population.”

Every front line staff person at De Anza College has been trained in how to respond to inquiries from ICE. President Murphy says, “Absent a subpoena or a court order with a name spelled correctly, we will not cooperate.”

President Murphy described the multiple resources for undocumented students, “the principle one being organized by the undocumented students themselves.” HEFAS (Higher Education for AB540 Students) is an active student organization on campus that organizes community space and resources for undocumented students and students in mixed-status families. They have a center on campus with about five paid student staff.

Angélica Esquivel, the Program Coordinator for HEFAS and VIDA (Vasconcellos Institute for Democracy in Action), helps run the center in collaboration with the students. Angélica was a student at De Anza and co-founded the resource center for HEFAS in 2011. She transferred to UCLA to work on her Bachelors degree, and then came back to De Anza to work as a staff member to continue to support undocumented students on campus.

HEFAS has a great and welcoming space where they offer direct services to ensure students’ academic success and informal resources like legal information and referrals. They have well-developed relationships with local legal resources and run workshops where public interest lawyers meet with students on campus. President Murphy says, “We’re part of a network of organizations who are working with undocumented communities so we have various well-established relationships in various neighborhoods and communities where our students come from and where they do their own work.”

President Murphy’s Views on the Importance of Equity for Undocumented Students

To President Murphy, the question of equity for undocumented students was “impatient of debate.” He says, “Persons are welcome here regardless of their legal status. Period. We do outreach to local high schools in which we are extremely clear that persons without legal documentation are welcome, that we have programs and resources for them.”

 He goes on to say, “There’s an older vision here at play. This institution represents one of the few social democratic inventions in the United States in a country largely bereft of social democracy. The narrative is almost narrowly now how everyone is going to participate in the economy, but the older image that these are schools for democracy is a deep part of the DNA of these institutions.” He described how unions fought to make K12 education free for children in the United States, and community colleges followed the same idea that college should be open to all and as free as possible.

“It’s not even arguable whether it’s a community you should serve, it’s part of our general mission to serve our community… The question is who’s here and how do we serve those who come and how do we prepare them to be at play in the communities where they live and work and are going to play leadership roles.”

President Murphy’s Advice about the Role of the College President in Building Best Practices for Undocumented Students

 President Murphy described how his role as president is primarily to listen to the students and to work with the students. He says, “I might not have ever experienced the trauma of that kind of dislocation but I’d better be able to listen and try to empathize and have an understanding.” When asked what advice he would give to another college presidents, he said, “Spending time with undocumented students to learn about the concrete circumstances of their lives and what they face.”

In addition to listening, he emphasized the importance of working with student leaders. “In any instance you’ve got organizers from the undocumented community… and so the degree to which you listen and privilege those voices as opposed to other voices strikes me as a valuable and good thing to do.”

He also articulated the importance of being clear as a president of a college and doing more than making pronouncements of support. He recognizes that college presidents in other states and regional contexts, especially in politically red states, may be more inclined to “keep their head below the parapet.” Recognizing the privilege of his position in California to be able to make pronouncements in support of undocumented students, he also encourages presidents to be clear and take action:

“If you’re a president [of a college], you had better be clear on where you stand. Your lack of clarity is an error. The reality is [many college presidents] proclaim their support for undocumented students, but the question is who’s actually able to give support?”

downloadMuch thanks to President Brian Murphy, Danielle Wells, HEFAS (Higher Education for AB540 Students), Isaac Lara, Angélica Esquivel, Mohammad Tavakoli, Brenda Y. Lopez, Julia Feinberg, Edwin Hernandez, Audrey D. Paredes, Carolina Valdivia, My Undocumented Life blog, and the Ford Foundation for making this film and blog post possible.

The College Presidents with Undocumented Students Series features video interviews with college presidents who have worked with their students, staff, and faculty to build effective best practices for undocumented students on their college campuses. This series aims to help build a culture across the higher education sector around the importance of creating and building best practices for undocumented students. This series will feature several college presidents talking about particular best practices on their campuses, the importance of institutional leadership in building these best practices, and how they came to care about this work. Stay tuned for several more spotlights on college presidents from 2018 to 2019!

Rachel is a PhD student in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles where she is also a Research Associate for the Civil Rights Project and the Institute for Immigration, Globalization, and Education. Rachel has worked extensively with immigrant and undocumented young adults in Los Angeles, Oakland, Boston, and Washington, DC. She has also worked in the higher education sector for Bunker Hill Community College, MassBay Community College, Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, Achieving the Dream, and Jobs for the Future. Rachel is proficient in Spanish, Japanese, and French. She received her Masters in Higher Education from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and her Bachelors in philosophy from The University of Chicago.

Robert is a Professor of Social Science and Comparative Education, the Morgan and Helen Chu Endowed Chair in Asian American Studies, and co-director for the Institute for Immigration, Globalization and Education at UCLA. His research is broadly focused on race, ethnicity, and the stratification of college opportunity. His work has been influential to federal, state, and institution policy related to college access and affordability. He has provided congressional testimony regarding the Higher Education Reauthorization Act and No Child Left Behind, informed state policy decisions related to selective college admissions, and his research has been solicited to inform U.S. Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action and school desegregation. Prior to his appointment at UCLA, he served as a professor at New York University and the University of Pennsylvania.


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