Story by Danielle Burton
Susana Muñoz, assistant professor of higher education leadership at Colorado State University, recently published a new book, Identity, Social Activism, and the Pursuit of Higher Education: The Journey Stories of Undocumented and Unafraid Community Activists.
The School of Education faculty member is a proponent of promoting equity, social justice and activism, as well as advocating for undocumented students who are fighting for citizenship.
The inspiration for the book came when Muñoz began asking questions about the resources available to undocumented students through her work in the federal TRIO programs and her dissertation research.
“Students are coming from a lot of doubt, so it’s up to the teachers and administrators to give them that empowerment … allowing them to see that they can do this, that they have this agency, the potential to navigate these systems,” she said. “But we have to give them these resources and the support.”
She added that how students make meaning of their legal status affects the resources they access.
“If you think about navigating the educational system with ‘I can’t tell anybody,’ then how does one get the services and resources he or she needs to navigate opportunities?” Muñoz said.
In her book, Muñoz shares the stories of 13 undocumented and unafraid student activists that highlight the educational, identity development, and often unspoken mental health challenges these activists have faced. She hopes the peer influence of the stories will inspire a younger audience to “feel like they’re not alone.”
In addition to these inspiring stories, the book foregrounds the critical consciousness these students develop in understanding the world and its systemic issues, presenting a lens for focusing on larger societal issues, such as racism and sexism.
“All of these issues are interconnected, and that’s part of the conversation that we have with social justice and social activism,” she said. “You gain this critical consciousness along the way, and you learn not only more about yourself and your own identity, but how this all fits in the larger context of social and equity issues.”
Spreading the word
Muñoz hopes to educate a broad audience of teachers, administrators, counselors and higher education personnel to inform policies and practices related to supporting undocumented students and families.
All of the proceeds from sales of her book will go to United We Dream, a youth-led organization that works for the equity of immigrant youth and families. Muñoz said that she feels the organization does very intentional work with higher education institutions, and she wants her book to sustain the momentum of the movement. She added that this type of activism can be exhausting — it is an issue that never rests, and the fight is “not going to fall on the shoulders of just students … They also need allies to help in that fight.”
According to Muñoz, those allies are educators, administrators and college presidents who have power and influence to support and increase resources and policies that enhance the lives and career opportunities of undocumented students.
“The goal is that these students and their families become citizens, and with that citizenship will come the liberties that they’ve been fighting for,” she said. “And that’s the goal. It’s great that we have these services for students without legal status, but ultimately citizenship is what they need. Because without citizenship, how are they going to continue to live, access health care and employment, and take care of their retiring parents?”
Muñoz said that addressing the issue of citizenship is key, and that process begins with education and creating dialogue for change.
“If I’ve learned one thing from doing this work for many years, it’s that the experiences of undocumented immigrants need to be central to actions and conversations related to equity,” she said. “Those of us with legal status privilege have a responsibility and duty to ensure that education is a human right for all.”