Purpose: This article aims to uplift the experiences of undocumented Latinx students by presenting a qualitative study examining the ways in which these students use their academic identities as platforms to build political efficacy and create institutional change at highly selective private colleges in the United States.
Design & Methodology: Data were obtained through structured interviews with 41 Latinx youth across 19 elite private colleges. Data were thematically analyzed using a two-step coding process (Boyatzis, 1998).
Findings: Findings show that respondents: (1) leverage their academic identities to mitigate the potentially stigmatizing impacts of an undocumented status and build personal political efficacy, which they mobilize to (2) re-shape immigration discourse through rejection of the “Dreamer” narrative, and (3) create institutional changes within their campus and beyond.
Research Limitations/Implications: While the study presents a unique sample of undocumented students, further research is needed to understand the generalizability of findings in other racial and ethnic groups and the non-DACA population.
Practical: Findings can provide a roadmap for private institutions to enact policies and practices that create a culture of student-centered inclusion operationalized through visibility of undocumented students, humane immigration discourse, and investment in resources to create equitable opportunities for their undocumented population.
Originality/Value: The study presents experiences of undocumented students in a new educational context not previously examined in the research literature, that elite private colleges and expands empirical knowledge on both identity processes of undocumented youth in these contexts and their civic engagement through a personal, rather than collective, mobilization of status.