February 07, 2018 | By NACE Staff
TAGS: immigration, best practices, operations, legal issues, diversity and inclusion, nace insights
Spotlight for Career Services Professionals
Career services professionals face unique challenges when working with undocumented and DACAmented students. First and foremost, of course, is awareness regarding a student’s status; as practitioners often don’t know if a student is undocumented unless disclosure occurs. Other challenges dive deeper into this complicated issue.
“As career practitioners, we are solution focused,” says Ana Clara Blesso, assistant director of experiential learning at the University of Connecticut’s Center for Career Development. “We connect students with opportunities. However, undocumented students face large-scale, life-altering systemic and logistical barriers in the United States, for which there may not be current solutions.”
For example, undocumented or DACAmented students may fear that if they go to school or are away from home for a semester, their parents or family members will be gone when they get back. Additionally, there are other obstacles they may face, such as not being able to pass a background check, or obtain a driver’s license or health insurance.
“With DACA being scaled back, there’s the additional fear of what will happen next,” Blesso says. “Undocumented students can’t pursue all of the opportunities that their peers can. There’s a fear of being left behind, and they often feel guilt and shame. It’s a heavy burden.”
Career services offices should strive to create an environment that is inclusive, helpful, and informed so undocumented students are comfortable with their decision to disclose and confident they can get the help they need to navigate the higher education system and the job search.
Creating such an environment starts with the words you use.
“Professionals need to be aware of the language used when engaging with this student population and be as inclusive as possible,” Blesso advises, adding that using words like “alien” or “illegal” might be perceived as dehumanizing to an undocumented student.
This awareness should extend throughout the career center space and beyond. Everything—from the posters on the walls to the types of programming you offer—should be sensitive to and inclusive of undocumented students.
“Make sure your programming, events, and policies aren’t all exclusionary by nature,” Blesso says. “An example would be if an office is looking to eliminate unpaid internships from their databases and systems. In theory, that can be an okay idea, as we want to see our students be compensated for their time. At the same time, undocumented students aren’t able to participate in anything that’s paid, potentially, so we may be excluding them from some meaningful experiences.”
Having inclusive resources and information on your career center’s website is another effective practice.
“From my experience,” she notes, “undocumented students are going online first to look for information. If there’s nothing available on your career center’s website, undocumented students might assume that there’s nothing available for them at your center.”
Blesso offers some other tips for working with undocumented students:
“Also, encourage undocumented students to pursue their passion,” Blesso urges. “Assisting them with their career exploration and job search—and doing that research together—helps build trust and positions your career services office favorably with other undocumented students considering disclosing.”
Blesso will present on this topic at the 2018 NACE Conference in New Orleans.
Percent of institutions conducting First-Destination Surveys
Median number of professional staff
Percent of career centers with employer partnership programs
Percent of staff time spent student-facing
2021-22 Career Services Benchmarks Survey