A group of Bakersfield College staff and students and community organizers gathered for the first time Friday afternoon on campus since receiving the Project Conexiones grant.
Project Conexiones, also known as the California Campus Catalyst Fund, is a grant BC received last year worth $115,000. The grant is intended to aid undocumented students.
BC professor Octavio Barajas organized the meeting for students — specifically undocumented students — to have a “safe space to work together.”
“One of the things we want to emphasize is unity,” Barajas said. “Unity within our campus and among immigration issues and undocumented students in our nation.”
BC is one of 33 California schools to receive the California Campus Catalyst Fund, a three-year initiative program funded and overseen by Immigrants Rising, an organization based in Northern California that empowers undocumented young people to achieve educational and career goals.
The purpose of the grant is to raise the profile of undocumented students at the statewide level through expanding the resources available to undocumented students and their families.
BC student Jose Bello, 21, was excited to hear about the grant. While attending BC, Bello was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2018 and held in the Mesa Verde Detention Center for three months before his late August release.
“I’m just getting started with all the immigration projects that are going on, but I’m hoping to be a part of this grant,” Bello said. “I heard about the money being granted last year, but no one was aware that it existed.”
“This year it’s more known to the public, so I think it’s a good step towards [students] actually using these resources,” Bello said. “I’m optimistic, we can use all the help we can get.”
Immanuel Limaco, a BC student and M.E.Ch.A (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán) president, believes this grant is especially important to BC’s student population.
“I saw a real decrease in students in the last two years,” Limaco said. “You know, there are over 32,000 students here, and over 67 percent are Hispanic or Latino. To see all of this coming together is really encouraging.”
Though BC received the grant in late 2018, the school has only recently received the funds.
“We applied for and received the grant last year, and we’ve just reached the implementation stage” said Oliver Rosales, a history professor at BC involved in overseeing the grant. “The main purpose is to raise the profile of undocumented students, build student leadership capacity, improve how higher education institutions service undocumented students.”
The primary focuses for the faculty involved is to support undocumented students, especially members of the school organization LUPE (Latinos Unidos por Educación) and promote community awareness about issues relating to undocumented immigrants, Rosales said.
The grant is intended to cover activities and events around campus and outreach programs relating to undocumented students.
“Part of it is community outreach because there’s a misconception that to go to Bakersfield College, you need to have a high school diploma or to be a citizen, and that’s not the truth,” said Barajas, who also helped in receiving the grant.
Additionally, the grant will provide opportunities and funds for individual students.
“As of now, two students have already received money from the grant,” Rosales said. “There’s still room to decide what to do with the grant money and we wanted to get the input from the students this involves.”
Bakersfield College has several events relating to immigration and undocumented students scheduled for this spring, including documentary screenings, essay competitions and conference opportunities.