Sarah Defnall, a residence hall director at Eastern Mennonite University, views the DACA Stories Exhibit on Thomas Plaza last week. The event is one of several planned by the university's DACA Dialogue Planning Committee to raise awareness and advocate for undocumented students and members of the community. (Photos by Andrew Strack)

DACA campus committee hosts outdoor ‘story exhibit,’ continues advocacy

In the gray cold of early November on Thomas Plaza at Eastern Mennonite University, eleven chairs called attention to the plights of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.

The Nov. 8 “Story Exhibition” was a way to raise awareness on campus about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and highlighted a current EMU student and an EMU alumnus, four students in the Harrisonburg community, and five others from around the nation.

The exhibit was hosted by EMU’s DACA Dialogue Planning Committee, which formed after the termination of the DACA program earlier this fall. Earlier in the semester, the committee held an informational gathering, hosted a chapel service, and partnered with the Latino Student Alliance for its banquet.

Future events include a town hall meeting on campus and a DACA community march to U.S. Representative Bob Goodlatte’s office in Harrisonburg, she added.

The Nov. 8 exhibit highlighted 11 stories of the undocumented in the United States.

“The committee envisions these events to foster an ongoing dialogue among administration, faculty, staff and students with the hope that our campus community can respond to these concerns with support and empathy,” said Anna Messer, a student in the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding accelerated masters program and a Peace Fellowship and Latino Student Alliance representative.

One of many ‘lifelong journeys’

One of the EMU students featured in the exhibit was Keyri Lopez-Godoy, set to graduate this spring with a degree in elementary education. She was brought to the U.S. from El Salvador at age 8, and graduated from high school with so many college credits that she is earning her bachelor’s degree in three years.

“I am in the eyes of society one of the 800,000 [DACAmented students in the U.S.],” the statement below her picture read, “and in the eyes of God I am the daughter He loves.”

Listen to a podcast of senior education major Keyri Lopez-Godoy talking about her experiences.

The first in her family to graduate from college, Lopez-Godoy credits many teachers, school staff and professors with encouraging her to succeed academically. When she looked at the exhibit, her own words and picture stationed alongside the ten others, she “didn’t just see papers and chairs,” she said: “I saw lifelong journeys.”

‘Shedding light’

In September President Trump announced the end of DACA, which President Barack Obama created in 2012. The program allowed some 800,000 people brought to the United States as children but without documentation to reside, work and study legally here under renewable two-year permits. Congress has yet to provide any avenue for DACAmented people to continue in the country, leaving many anxious about their options once their current permits expire.

Following Trump’s action, concerned students, faculty and staff at EMU formed the DACA committee, which presented the exhibit “to shed light on the injustices and barriers affecting DACAmented students and community members, and on the hope and beauty that their stories carry,” said Messer.

In a statement to the campus community in early September, EMU President Susan Schultz Huxman said she was “saddened and troubled” by the termination of DACA, and said that the EMU community was “committed to walk with our DACA students. They are beloved members of the EMU family.”