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George Mason University students Ana Tobar and Rodrigo Velasquez under flowering tree

Junior Ana Tobar and senior Rodrigo Velasquez of the student organization Mason DREAMers were among several George Mason University students to attend the recent Clinton Global Initiative University. The Initiative invites students, university representatives, and subject matter experts to join in developing solutions to social problems.

Seeking Solutions to Social Issues

As a high school senior, Rodrigo Velasquez says some universities would not accept his application because he was an undocumented immigrant from Bolivia. Despite gaining permanent residency a year ago, he says he still faces prejudice, more so, he believes, because of the presidential campaign's divisive rhetoric. That’s why the George Mason University senior, president of Mason DREAMers, was eager to attend the Clinton Global Initiative University in April in Berkeley, California.

“Being able to do this shows the hard work our team has put in,” says Velasquez, a communication major.

Velasquez and DREAMers’ internal vice president Ana Tobar, a junior majoring in communication and global affairs, were two of 14 Mason students invited to CGIU, which brings together students, university representatives,  and topic experts to develop solutions to social problems. Funding for the trip came from the Center for Advancement of Well-Being, University Life, and the Office of Student Scholarship, Creative Activities, and Research (OSCAR).

Mason students presented ideas for, among other things, clean water initiatives in the Amazon, refugee health, and promoting nonviolence in Burundi. Velasquez and Tobar talked about the Northeast DREAMers Collegiate Alliance, the Mason DREAMers’ plan to create a coalition of universities that, as Velasquez says, “will work together to change institutional policies within our universities to be more accepting of undocumented  students.”
 
“A lot of student leaders are undocumented, and a lot of faculty and staff don’t know that,” says Tobar. “To be able to show what they are doing toward bettering the community is a great counter argument.”

To help make that argument, Mason DREAMers used the UndocuAlly program that, according to its website, “helps participants better understand the history, legislation, and realities of the undocumented community.”

Within the Northeast DREAMers Collegiate Alliance, Velasquez hopes to see what he called a rapid-response team to react quickly to changing legislation. “Given the political environment, we need mass mobilization,” he says, “something effective that isn’t just hosted at Mason.” 

DREAMers groups from the University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth, Georgetown, Virginia Tech, Marymount, and Columbia are already committed, Velasquez says.

“This momentum is so important,” says Jennifer Crewalk, assistant director of Mason’s Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Multicultural Education (ODIME). “When we build a coalition across universities, it helps people feel they have a place of belonging that they may not have currently within their institutions. The success of MasonDreamers on our campus and university can really impact and inspire what is possible at other universities.”