What is your understanding of Berea College’s commitment to interracial education?
It is very diverse. It is more diverse than I would have imagined. This year is the first year Berea admitted DACA* students, 14 in total. When I came here, [the counselors] said that there are students from 65 different countries. Because Berea is a small school, just 1,600 students, this is remarkable. In addition, the Center for International Education program is very cultural. They plan different events throughout the semester to educate students about different countries, their cultures, and their traditions.
As a result, I felt very welcome. I thought the campus was going to be separated, like it was in high school, but everyone here appreciates each other. They are open to listening to each other’s story, about where they came from. And more than that, if a student faces a social issue back home, people will start educating people, other students about it.
How do you think Berea’s commitment to interracial education works to serve the Appalachian community or region?
[The college] educates everyone. On Martin Luther King Day it seemed that the majority of the students participated in the march and everyone went to the convocation where we had a very marvelous speaker. Just the fact that everyone is willing to teach and learn and listen about everybody’s story and their struggles, not just struggles with racism but with gender issues and so on. So we just don’t listen to one part, but we compare our experiences together.
How could Berea College improve on its service to the community through interracial education?
Right now I am starting to organize with the other DACA students because we really want to educate the student body. We are going to start having talks or panels so students and faculty–and community members later on–can come and listen to us and we can share our stories. This will help people in this area of Kentucky be more aware of what the actual facts are about DACA students, about our potential.
You’ve talked about the importance of telling stories, can you say more about that?
When I worked for the union (AFL-CIO), they taught me “the story” is what you carry on, it defines who you are and what you stand for. Before that, I never told the story about where I came from, not even in high school. Now, everywhere I go, at work, or at the convocation where I spoke, I tell my story. That is how you educate people about who you are and that is how you start giving your trust out to people because you are telling them things you wouldn’t tell them in person. It’s weird. It opens you up, I guess, because they know that you struggled and maybe you find you have a connection with each other. You never know what they are going through. If they feel like you are battling the same issue, they will walk up to you and help to create a solution. It makes you vulnerable too, but I am sure this helps people listen. Then they come up to you, and talk to you, and build up strong relationships. So, your vulnerability is a strength.
*DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program in which children of undocumented immigrants have the opportunity to achieve their dream of American citizenship. Osvaldo Flores was born in Mexico but lived in Georgia from the age of three until he came to Berea in the fall of 2014. President Roelofs invited him to participate in the opening convocation. A selection of his comments are available below.
Osvaldo Flores: Remarks from the 2014 Opening Convocation
My name is Osvaldo Flores, and I am an undocumented student born in Mexico, but raised in the state of Georgia since the age of three. I can see the confusion in many of your faces as you determine what undocumented means. What does this mean about me?
Before I graduated High School in 2012, I was told that I could not attend any college or university because I lacked an infamous 9 digit number. I lived in a state where diversity in the educational system was being advertised and promised. However, they enforce certain discriminatory policies and laws that prohibit such diversity from ever taking place. It came to a point in my life where being third in my graduating class and everything I worked for was lost in the turmoil of politics and injustice. This is the country I was raised to love and uphold as my home.
I chose to pledge allegiance to this country because it is home.
As I saw every single one of my friends go off into college, I desperately attempted to hide from the public humiliation of not attending college. This fear isolated me and created a hole which eventually became too big for me to crawl out of.
[Eventually] I stood up and told my story to find a purpose in life… Being undocumented was a struggle, but through countless hours of organizing, hunger strikes, protesting, applying to colleges every year, moving into Seabury Residence Hall, and speaking to you now, I am finding myself. . .
The fact that Berea College … has given many opportunities to its students is incredible. This year, Berea stepped up and has accepted 18 other DACA beneficiary students from all around the globe [and] provided a summer program for 30 students called Berea Bridge . . . Berea has actually listened and cared about our family’s struggle to seek and fulfill our own American dream. We have longed for the feeling of freedom that can be taken for granted, and now we can build our Berea Dream.
Whether you are a 20 year old undocumented student like myself, an international student from Japan, or even a first generation college student who was homeschooled, you are all welcomed. Now, I hope we can all pledge our allegiance to this life changing college that has and will continue to transform who we are into successful citizens of the world. Thanks to Berea’s commitments, no one is left behind.