Andrea Gordillo '14 (center) works with youths participating in the Student Immigration Movement's 2014 “SIM Camp.” (Courtesy Photo)
When Naomi Petrovsky ’15 returned from her Alternative Spring Break trip to El Paso, Texas, in 2013, she felt a strong call to take action. Being an immigrant herself, she had always had a strong awareness of the complexity of immigration. But in El Paso, she learned more about undocumented immigration along the border and wanted to immerse herself in the issue. Thus, she formed Emerson UNITE in September 2013 with the help of alumna Andrea Gordillo ’14, members of her El Paso team, and other Emerson students.
“Our role in UNITE is to take the power we have as Emerson students and make sure our institution is as inclusive and supportive as it can be to undocumented young people so they can have the same access to education as the rest of us,” says Bianca Ocasio ’16, a member of the El Paso team.
UNITE seeks to spread awareness about the issue of immigration, promote educational support for undocumented youths, and tear down stereotypes surrounding the topic. The issue is one that affects many individuals in the nation and is close to the hearts of the students who are part of UNITE. Ocasio says the group is determined to provide more context to the word “immigration” and educate the public on immigration experiences nationwide.
“‘Immigration’ is like a buzzword that’s thrown around a lot in political spaces, but we want to put more emphasis on what it means to be an immigrant and what it means to be undocumented in Boston and the U.S.,” Ocasio said. “Just because we’re not on the border doesn’t mean that we’re not affected by it.”
Sarah Rocha '15 at the Spring 2015 Emerson College Organization Fair. (Courtesy Photo)
UNITE became officially recognized by the Student Government Association this academic year. This, Petrovsky believes, will help the group become more accessible to students and continue to promote inclusion and understanding on campus.
“Emerson prides itself on being a place of diversity and inclusion, and this group supports and puts that idea into action in a way that has not been done on this campus,” she said. “In a country that is home to more than 11 million undocumented immigrants, it is essential for the Emerson community to develop a more concrete and informed understanding of how immigration constantly affects our daily lives.”
Petrovsky hopes the work of UNITE will make a lasting impact both on its participants and in the Emerson community.
“We would like to see these future leaders, ourselves included, trained with sensitivity to human rights issues that will continue into their craft and careers.”
UNITE has held several campus events to increase awareness of immigration issues, which included a reception with President Lee Pelton earlier this year and a T-shirt sale to raise money for organizations that help immigrants.