COLLECTIVE RESISTANCE IN HIGHER EDUCATION: A PARTICIPATORY ACTION STUDY WITH & FOR UNDOCUMENTED COLLEGE STUDENTS IN VIRGINIA
Espino, Michelle M.
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The purpose of this study was to understand how undocumented students at a large public research university in Virginia (VPU) navigated higher education to pursue their educational goals by engaging three undocumented college students as co-researchers in participatory action research (PAR). Using a conceptual framework I called the ecological model of undocumented student persistence (EMUSP), which integrated Suárez-Orozco, Yoshikawa, Teranishi, and Suárez-Orozco’s (2011) ecological developmental model and Padilla’s (1991, 1999, 2009) expertise model of student success, my co-researchers and I were able to account for the multiple ecosystem barriers (macro—federal, exo—state, and micro—institution) that undocumented students in the Commonwealth were facing. Through this framework, we focused on the persistence strategies that undocumented students implemented by obtaining an in-depth understanding of the knowledge they possessed and developed, as well as the actions they took to manage the barriers they encountered in higher education. The study revealed that exosystem level (Virginia) tuition equity guidelines were dependent on temporary macrosystem level (United States) policies and negatively affected participants’ persistence and emotional wellbeing. Within the microsystem (VPU), participants perceived higher education administrators as unsupportive and available resources as limited and insufficient to meet their needs as undocumented students. Family surfaced as a critical microsystem and source for participants’ motivations to pursue and persist in higher education. Finally, inside the “black box” of higher education, participants managed the barriers they encounter in college but were unable to overcome them, resulting in a recurring cycle of persistence. Overall, this study adds to the literature in four distinctive ways, by (a) studying a subgroup of undocumented students that is underrepresented in higher education scholarship, college students without documentation in the Commonwealth of Virginia; (b) employing PAR, a methodological approach that has not been used to study undocumented college students; (c) advancing a conceptual framework, the EMUSP, that combines the ecological developmental model (Suárez-Orozco et al., 2011) with the expertise model of student success (Padilla, 1991, 1999, 2009); and (d) exposing the post-2016 U.S. presidential elections’ sociopolitical realities affecting undocumented immigrants within higher education, as well as their counterstories of college persistence.