California DREAMers: Activism, Identity, and Empowerment Among Undocumented College Students

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Abstract

There is a large gap in college access and success for undocumented students. This emergent population remains uniquely and precariously situated within campus environments, despite the passage of Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Acts in some states. These inequities have sparked activism for DREAMers associated with the undocumented youth movement. Using data from interviews of 16 undocumented students at a selective California research institution, this study explores the ways in which DREAMers constructed an empowered undocumented identity through activism. Constructivist grounded theory was used as a frame to guide data interpretation and analysis with the aim of uncovering invisible societal processes and power dynamics affecting this population. Three categories were saturated: coming to activism, pushing for existence, and inscribing power. These categories reveal the way in which DREAMers derive power through their activism, sustain that activism despite oppressive societal conditions, and embrace tenets reflective of global social justice. Implications for institutions and policymakers that support success for this student population are drawn.

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