UndocuWeek took place Oct. 19-23. A screening of and discussion on the film “Change the Subject” took place Oct. 21.
“The idea behind UndocuWeek is to give students resources, empower them through information sharing, bring awareness and resources to faculty and administration, and create community and fun,” Dream Center coordinator Pamela Ortiz said.
What is the importance of UndocuWeek?
“UndocuWeek is a statewide event that is sponsored by the CCC (California Community Colleges) to increase awareness and support for undocumented students on our 114 community colleges,” former librarian Jessica Silver-Sharp said.
UndocuWeek began three years ago, and Skyline has participated from the beginning. The state provided and shared resources like promotional and educational material. According to cccco.edu, 70,000 undocumented students enrolled in California community colleges. These students are under protection through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy. California Colleges will not share any personal information on DACA students unless informed by judicial order. Bill 540 grants undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rather then paying for out-of-state tuition. Students can qualify for AB540 by attending a high school for three or years or more and receiving a GED or passing mark. You must not hold a non-immigrant visa of any kind. AB540 requires students to file an affidavit sharing an application for legal residency. Students who do not qualify for AB540 may still attend a university, but pay-out-of-state tuition. The Dream Center sends out a newsletter containing further information. Skyline Library is in the process of changing the subject headings labeled “illegal aliens”, “children of illegal aliens”, and “alien detention center”.
The documentary “Change the Subject” was created by alumni of Dartmouth College. Planning to do research, Melissa, a student at Dartmouth, noticed that in their library catalog, the subject heading “illegal alien” was used to describe undocumented immigrants. Students at Dartmouth brought on a social movement to change the label. The fight to change the subject heading still goes on to this day. In the movie, alumni Melissa Padilla stated that although the literature was labeled “illegal alien”, the books were not anti-immigrant. The label “illegal alien” caused Padilla to develop a mistrust of the library’s system.
“I didn’t look at the catalog system as an actual expression of values,” Dartmouth librarian Jill Baron said.
Baron did not realize how a subheading can shape how we think or write on a global scale. Until a student brought it to Baron’s attention she realized how demeaning and offensive a subheading can be. Baron then began activating the change alongside students at Dartmouth.
The movie shares Dartmouth librarian Baron and alumni Padilla and Oscar Cornejo’s journey taking the fight all the way from Dartmouth College to Congress. In 2016, Congressional Republicans opposed the subject heading change of “illegal aliens” to “unauthorized immigration” or “noncitizens”. A current theme throughout the film is activism, and how strong an impact your voice as a student has the potential to have. The film mentions how the AP Stylebook dropped “illegal aliens” from the vocabulary it instructs journalists to use when referring to things that can be referred to in multiple ways. Subject headings are used in every library in the country. A subject heading represents a concept. Subject headings have changed overtime for people of color. At one point, the subject heading for black people was “Negros”, before it was changed to “Afro-Americans”, and then to “African-Americans” and finally to “African Americans and blacks of United States”. “Illegal alien” has since been dropped from the Congress library.
A small discussion panel was held after the screening of “Change the Subject”. The discussion covered how it comes down to identity, and how undocumented immigrants are viewed into the world. One person in the discussion described how subject headings put people in boxes, and the classification of terms is the issue.
In honor of UndocuWeek, one of the librarians pitched the movie “ Change the Subject” to the Dream Center taskforce. The filmmakers granted their permission for Skyline to share the film. Skyline was the 75th college to be screening the film. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the filmmakers and students from “Change the Subject” were traveling, sharing the film themselves along with doing a panel discussion.
“The film describes how when students encounter these terms that are dehumanizing, it really affects them emotionally, and makes them feel excluded and that they don’t belong in our college community,” Silver said.
Skyline Library is in the process of changing the subject headings in reference to undocumented students. One message from the film showed how “A simple action made a big difference” said Lori Lisowski, library support specialist. Subject headings are a library’s method of searching for works relating to certain topics. Before technology, subject headings on index cards were used to categorize the items in the library. Card catalogs were organized by the title, author, and each subject. Now that the subject headings are online, they need to be precise. Librarians are making sure to notice and change subject headings every instance in which they vary.
“Just because someone does something illegal based on our current laws does not mean they themselves are illegal,” Lisowski said. “It does not negate who they are. It is just an action. It does not change who you are, fundamentally, as a person.”
Changing the subject headings brought an active movement towards the misconception on undocumented immigrants. The library was given the rights to share the film for UndocuWeek.
“There is a lot of power in student activism,” Pamela Ortiz Cerda said.
Ortiz is the Dream Center coordinator at Skyline. The Dream Center is a program held on Campus for undocumented students. It is, as Ortiz likes to call it, the “one-stop shop for undocumented and community member services supporting advocacy”. They offer financial aid, career advice, a free legal clinic, and help with scholarships, EOPs, and transfers. The free legal clinic is open Wednesdays, and with an appointment, students are able to speak with an immigration attorney for free.
“Any issue that has to do with being undocumented, we help with, and not just for students — Community members are welcomed as well,” Ortiz said.
You can reach out to Ortiz through her email [email protected]. Follow the Dream Center on Instagram for updates on services @skyline_dreamcenter, scholarships are shared throughout their page. FIRE, which stands for Fighting for Immigrant Rights and Equality, is a club for those who want to support undocumented immigrants.
“As a student, it is the prime time in your life for activism,” Ortiz said. “It provides you a lot of power to make change in your institution.”
Ortiz mentioned that as a student, you are not bound by work contracts, and being in college gives you a community that helps enhance activism. To be conscious of the terminology you use for immigrants, read stories, watch videos, have conversations, and consider going to the Dream Center for further information.
The preferred way to refer to undocumented immigrants varies. “Dreamers” have a more positive tone — but asking someone how they want to be referenced is the best way to go about it. The importance of the library changing the subject heading shows support to undocumented students. As an undocumented student, seeing all the instances in which undocumented people are referred to as “illegal” is a reminder that the system was not made with them in mind.
“Actively creating a language that is not criminalizing is supportive of our students,” Ortiz said. “We are showing them we are being allies by making the campus a safer and more comfortable place, where we accept their identity without making it negative.”
Activism looks different for everyone. It can be sharing artwork, helping edit and send out emails, and plenty of other things — not just staging protests. Depending on what your skills are, there are different ways you can be an activist.
UndocuWeek of Action was concluded Oct. 23 by everyone contributing to a virtual art mural. Keep updated on the changes to the library’s subject headings, and be mindful of the difference you can make.