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College Hires ‘Fellow for Undocumented Students’

A demonstrator holds a sign reading #NoBanNoWall during a rally in Harvard Square opposing recent immigration policy changes.
A demonstrator holds a sign reading #NoBanNoWall during a rally in Harvard Square opposing recent immigration policy changes. By Timothy R. O'Meara
By Hannah Natanson and Derek G. Xiao, Crimson Staff Writers

Amid growing student concerns that President Donald Trump could strip protections from undocumented students, Harvard has designated a staff member to support those students at the College.

Katie M. Derzon, a graduate student and tutor in Leverett House, will serve as the College’s first “Fellow for Undocumented Students.” Derzon wrote in an email that she sees her new role as “imperative,” in part because of the current political climate. In the fall, Emelyn A. dela Peña, the former assistant dean for equity, diversity, and inclusion, estimated that there are about 40 undocumented students at the College.

Derzon wrote that her primary responsibility in her new position will be guiding undocumented students protected under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals towards resources to help them navigate what she called “uncertain” times. She added she hopes to foster a “dialogue” between undocumented students and College administrators.

“My top priorities are to support student well-being and ensure that the voices of undocumented students are heard and addressed,” she wrote. “The strength of Harvard is due in no small part to its diverse student body that brings together the perspectives and insights of individuals from around the globe.”

Loc Truong, the College’s director of diversity and inclusion programs, wrote in an email that the College created the new position in order to better support undocumented and immigrant students at Harvard.

Truong wrote that Derzon will also be working with departments across the University—including the Harvard International Office and the Law School’s Immigration and Refugee Clinic—to share information about the needs of undocumented students going forward.

In an interview Thursday, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana agreed with Truong and said the decision to hire Derzon as part of a larger College effort to bolster its support of undocumented students at Harvard.

“I think this is a time of uncertainty and concern for everybody in this community,” Khurana said. “We have really tried to mobilize a variety of College resources to support students…to give them as much as possible the agency to make the decisions that are right for them.”

Since Trump won the presidency in November, Harvard has taken several steps to support its undocumented and immigrant affiliates. In a University-wide email sent Nov. 28, Faust promised to expand the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program at the Law School and bring immigration experts to campus to provide legal advice for undocumented students.

Faust also sent an email Sunday to Harvard affiliates that said the University will hire a full-time attorney and post a website with resources for undocumented students.

On Wednesday, University administrators held a town hall with immigration experts intended to address the concerns of Harvard affiliates affected by Trump’s recent executive order, which suspends immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries for 90 days. At the event, panelists fielded questions from the audience and detailed Harvard’s lobbying efforts to protect legislation like DACA that supports undocumented immigrants.

Reflecting on her new role, Derzon wrote she thinks her greatest challenge will be adapting to what she called a constantly fluctuating political landscape in the United States. She wrote that no one can be sure, day to day, what “additional changes” to expect from Trump’s administration.

“Given the speed with which political decisions are being made, it can be difficult to predict, and thus prepare for, what new obstacles might be affecting our students,” she wrote. “Students may feel anxious and are looking to the College to give them clear directives on how to navigate the foreseeable future.”

While acknowledging many Harvard affiliates may fear the future, Khurana said he remained optimistic.

“I am cautiously hopeful,” he said. “Prejudice and bigotry often are the consequences of ignorance and the more educated we are, the more open we are to each other.”

“I believe that from the top of my head to the bottom of my toes,” he added.

—Staff writer Hannah Natanson can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @hannah_natanson.

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