UndocuLives: Understanding the Information Behavior, Needs, and Networks of UndocuStudents in Higher Education
Guajardo, Veronica E.
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Technology use and information consumption appears omnipresent in the lives of many modern U.S. college students, central to everything from social media posting to opening a free email account needed for most basic online transactions. Information regarding college admissions, deadlines, standardized tests scoring and financial aid can be daunting for many students. It is exponentially more so for undocumented students who must consider legal and financial barriers. Like many immigrants, undocumented populations understand access to education is important and can help create opportunities with greater economic potential, especially for undocumented students. For many in the undocumented community, education and a ‘better future’ for themselves and their children, is one of the main reasons for their migration in the first place. Annually, an estimated “65,000 undocumented students graduate from U.S. high schools” (Dream Act: Fact Sheet, 2010). However, only about 5% to 10% enroll in higher education and 1% to 3% graduate from college each year (Russell, 2011), with an even smaller number continuing into graduate school. In Washington State, the undocu-movement advanced with the passage of the 2003 historic law that granted eligibility for in-state tuition rates for undocu-students who previously were charged at international student rate, about twice the rate as in-state tuition. Further momentum was gained in 2014 when undocu-students became eligible for state financial aid with passage of the Real Hope Act, also referred to as the Washington DREAM Act (Hernandez, 2014). These state laws allowed for an increase from 25 undocu-student in 2003 to an estimated 1,100 by 2014. This number represents only about “1% of all undergraduate students in the state,” (Wogan, 2015), a relatively low number given the estimated state percentage of undocumented population of 250,000, or 3% state’s overall undocumented population (Pew Hispanic Center, 2016). Nonetheless, undocumented students are navigating multiple systems and are enrolling in colleges and universities, in some states with increasing numbers, despite the enormous obstacles. It is a complex quandary. Undocumented college students use technology to satisfy information needs and will continue to do so, as information can facilitate access regardless of legal status. This is important to undocumented youth who often experience unique challenges including stress, alienation, anxiety, uncertainty a sense of limbo (Gonzales, R. G., 2015; Pérez, W. 2012) and insecurity when considering educational options and seeking help to navigate systems of higher education. Entering college is never easy for any student and can be more tumultuous for undocumented students who are often first-generation students, typically low income and may have higher financial costs to attend college (depending on state) with fewer options for credit and/or loans, especially if they are not eligible for state aid. Nonetheless, undocumented students are enrolling in colleges and universities and use technology to satisfy information needs, but to what degree? Undocumented students constitute a growing body of research in disciplines such as education, political science, law and policy and sociology. However, there is less in-depth examination through the information science lens. However, there is less in-depth examination through the information science lens. There is a compelling gap in knowledge about this vulnerable group and their information needs, technology use and overall understanding about undocumented college students’ networks and information behaviors. Like undocumented communities themselves, the information needs and information-seeking behavior of undocumented students are complex and multidimensional. The development of a more holistic understanding of undocumented student’s information behavior, technology use and support is important. Using a qualitative exploratory approach, framed through though a social justice framework (Jolivétte, 2015), this study draws on three methodological approaches including a) participatory photography (photo voice) interviews with 11 participants, b) an online document review and a c) focus group gathering to investigate the information behavior of undocumented students in higher education, in an effort to address the following research questions: 1) What is the nature of the information needs and seeking behavior of undocumented students at the college level? 2a) How are online (digital) and offline (face-to-face) connections and networks used to address the information-needs related to undocu-content? The second angle of this research question is, b) How do undocumented students express their undocu-lives in online platforms? I situate higher education, info-behaviors and the Nepantla state of being (“in-between”) to scaffold students’ liminal experience and center on their undocu-lives in what I call UndocuStudent Information Framework (USIF) to identify several interesting findings. First, the nature of information needs and behavior of undocu-students at the college level are multifaceted and complex, yet not all entirely related to educational needs, but addressing them is crucial to mitigating 1) an uncertain legal status which creates a constant in-between/liminal stance compelling undocu-students to engage in information seeking and sharing that bridges this liminality at critical point in their education, including the latter part of their high school years and the formative years in college, 2) requiring undocu-students to identify or develop trusted interpersonal networks who are professionals well versed in undocu-info (staff, faculty, teacher, fellow student), who will offer assistance to navigate academic journeys in a holistic way that includes personal, legal, emotional and financial support. Second, connections and networks of support are used to mitigate critical information deficits experienced by undocu-students who depend/rely on both online and offline networks, but prefer face-to-face connections and a physical space such as an Information Ground (Fisher 2005) where support from undocu-verse staff (faculty, teacher, fellow student, etc.) is able to satisfy undocu-core needs (9 identified). Addressing the second part of this question, undocu-students express their lives online in various ways including multiple identity layers of liminality and engagement in online groups, monitoring of organization websites and participating in social networks to strengthening their own networks and knowledge in order to 1) seek undocu-specific information and monitor (keep informed) overall climate and news related to immigration and education, 2) as a tool to share content on important achievements and creative solutions to undocu-concerns, understand the ‘model undocu-minority’ label, yet are not afraid to disengage from the information and technology (push-back) when undocu-fatigue is reached. My hope is that this work will contribute the field of information science not only by providing a deeper understanding of this population’s info-need and behaviors, but also allow researchers, faculty, academic administration including executive leadership at two and four year institutions and first contact staff (such as admissions, academic advisers, counselors, housing and financial aid), to better understand what the needs are, where the gaps exist, where professional staff development is needed, and how budgetary decisions can contribute to proving equitable access for undocu-students in higher education in a powerful, affirming, and validating way.
- Information science