At the beginning of the semester, President Trump announced the end of the DACA program, allowing Congress six months to save the program and the 800,000 young people who are currently part of it. One of those students is Daysi Bedolla, who is currently student body president at Eastern Oregon University. She has been active in advocating for undocumented students rights for years and has looked to student government as an important platform to expand and elevate that advocacy. She recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to share her story with Members of Congress. We caught up with Daysi recently as she reflected on where the issue has been and where it is going next.
NCLC: How did you become involved in advocacy around DACA?
Daysi Bedolla: I went to DC to take action [in November] because I am a DACA recipient. That encouraged me to advocate for others and myself. Our goal is to raise awareness about we’re doing. There is a lot of stigma against DACA and undocumented folks. A lot of what I’m doing is for everyone surrounding me to benefit. I care deeply to make sure that others have the opportunity to go to college. It’s difficult to find scholarships and support. I want to make sure all people have access to higher education.
NCLC: What were your big takeaways from the DC trip?
DB: I was involved [in DACA advocacy] prior to the D.C. action. I went to a meeting organizing advocates from Oregon, trying to get a local member of Congress to support DACA. We have not yet succeeded there. Making noise in D.C. was very intentionally, there are all these people in the same boat – I have often felt like a voice for this DACA community and for once it didn’t feel like I was doing it alone. Walking next to the people going through the same thing I’m going through, it felt super powerful and encouraging to see Senators take the Senate with us and hold signs during marches. We didn’t get the results we wanted yet, which is [Speaker of the House] Paul Ryan saying something to us.
NCLC: What has the response been within the campus community?
DB: Before I was SGA president, I was president of a club called United Undocumented Students. It’s been a transition from that position to SGA president – I spoke with my advisors beforehand to make sure I was balanced in my approach on DACA. They challenged me to ask “would I act this strongly for any other cause?” My answer was yes. I am up for fighting for racial justice and equality. I haven’t heard anything bad from the administration so I guess that’s a good thing. Due to the work on DACA last year, I think we are primed for success on campus and within the community.
NCLC: What was your pathway from DACA advocacy to becoming student body president?
DB: I started United Undocumented Students on campus two years ago because of a conference I attended called “Oregon Students of Color.” I joined a coalition meeting with undocumented students. From there, we decided to go back to our campuses and make some change. I proposed starting a club for undocumented students and allies. The first year was in the spring term 2016; we set up a safe space and network with other Oregon and Washington institutions. Our first endeavor was [voter] registration drives in partnership with the SGA. We joined local initiatives and national initiatives. I was already doing some of that work and working at multicultural affairs center.
I met a lot of people during my time in those roles. I talked to a lot of advisors; I decided in the spring term and was encouraged to do it. Being an advocate for human rights is my passion. It has been difficult; I gave up the club to do student government. My mother advises, “it doesn’t matter what I do as long as true to myself and advocating for students,” which is my passion. Talking to my counselor, I asked the same question and received the same answer. I had a huge group of friends to help me run [for SGA president]. I wanted to make change and bring a lot of people together. The multicultural center was really helpful, and we ultimately were successful!
NCLC: How do you feel about where things are and where they are going?
DB: I don’t know how I feel right now. Within my work as student body president, I am working on mental health. There is a stigma of leaders needing help. Something I’ve been doing is going to see my therapist – it keeps me living. But I also have a really good support system. It is always in the back of my mind, but it’s not constant. I try to stay neutral and keep it in focus when possible. I have applied to go up to D.C. for the advocacy work after classes have finished. I am also organizing senator calls and rallies locally. We are seeking more support. I will be doing more of that work during winter break.
We are showing that youth can move mountains. Everything seems uncertain – I’ll just continue to do what I do, which is advocate for folks and for myself. Maybe why I don’t think about [legislation not passing] is because my brother is a DACA student and currently in high school. There are students like him that might not be able to make it to college if something doesn’t happen. We have to appeal more to the emotions [of lawmakers]. Even if it doesn’t pass in the next months, we’ll keep pushing. DACA is used by politicians; yes, it is made political. It won’t keep me from advocating for students.
NCLC: What tips do you have for other student leaders interested in doing this work?
- Ask undocumented students on your campus what they need. it is especially important to go out of your way to ask and interact with undocumented students – maybe open a safe space for undocumented students if there isn’t a campus club. Example, we have an advocate group alongside our club, students sign up if they want to talk or if they don’t feel safe, etc. This is an initiative we started last year.
- Provide undocumented students platforms to speak up and share their voice.
- Advocate for policy change. It is vital to organize call drives to Congress, launch campaigns, and educate people on what DACA recipients do, what DACA recipients want. We aren’t criminals, but rather contributing, valuable parts of America.
NCLC: Is there anything else you feel would be important for us to include that student body leaders should know?
DB: Just to encourage a greater call for allies! It’s important to call on allies to lend their support and take action with us. The action is a big piece. If there isn’t action we will unfortunately not move forward. In D.C., we had a lot of allies, [and] the numbers increase when we have them. It’s important to not just say we support but take action locally and in Washington D.C.
Photos provided courtesy of Daysi Bedolla.