For most college applicants, filling out the demographics section of the Common Application is as easy as selecting from a drop-down menu. For undocumented students, however, the answers aren’t as black and white.
That’s what motivated former Haverford College student Edward Menefee and other student activists from Students For Undocumented Dreams and Decision Equity Now Movement to launch the website Fair Common App, a spin-off of the Common App website. Unlike the regular version, the Fair Common App allows students to self-identify as “Undocumented American,” and it includes that category in its nondiscrimination clause.
At the present time, the Common App doesn’t have “Undocumented American” as a citizenship status category, and the nondiscrimination clause does not include “undocumented status” among other considerations like race and gender.
“It’s a form of protest on many fronts; it’s creative protest; it’s a nondiscriminatory alternative; it’s a petition and it’s also an example showing them what they should be doing,” Menefee said.
Penn Dean of Admissions Eric Furda, who is on the Board of Directors of the Common App, doesn’t believe the Fair Common App is necessary or effective.
“Quite honestly, I don’t know how productive the Fair Common App is at a micro level,’” Furda said. “At the end of the day, there’s already national awareness about this [issue], it’s before the U.S. Congress. I don’t think the Common App should be the target of it, and I’m not saying that because I’m on the board.”
He also mentioned that most of these undocumented college applicants come from Mexico, and, in Penn’s case, applicants from Mexico and Canada have need-blind consideration, just like documented American students.
Although no schools currently accept the Fair Common App as part of someone’s application for admission, one undocumented student has already signed up for and is in the process of applying to schools via the website.
Miriam Zuniga, a student at Freedom University in Athens, Georgia, decided to apply via the Fair Common App as an act of solidarity.
“The Common App discriminates against us based on the fact that we’re undocumented,” Zuniga said. “It’s just not fair for us to be seen as international students when we’re here.”
Zuniga is referencing the fact that, at certain public universities, undocumented students — like international students — don’t qualify for in-state tuition.
However, Zuniga herself is applying to a number of schools through the regular Common App, including Emory University, Syracuse University and Mount Holyoke College.
According to Menefee, who first met Zuniga at a DREAM Act march in Washington D.C., the Fair Common App is sending her application to Mills College in California, where they’re hoping it will be accepted.
College sophomore and United Minorities Council chair Joyce Kim thinks “the website is good in that they’re raising awareness. From my understanding, colleges obviously haven’t adopted it.”
Kim did say that there’s “a lot of uncertainty regarding immigration reform.”
College sophomore and Penn for Immigrant Rights Legislative Coordinator Meron Zeru also supports the movement. “I’m in full support of this website and I do hope that this catches the attention of colleges. There’s always talk on college campuses about race and issues that minorities face but rarely talk of undocumented students and the struggles that they face,” she said.
“I don’t know why [the Common Application and its member institutions are] choosing to discriminate,” Menefee said. “I think undocumented Americans deserve an equal admissions process.”
“That these private colleges and the Common Application are maintaining this structural violence against the undocumented community — keeping them out of higher education in the U.S. — is both a disservice to them and to our country,” he added.