Santa Barbra City College students, from left, Jenna McMahon, Melissa Garcia and Nicole Khodabandehlou paint pictures that will adorn the walls of SBCC’s newly opened Dream Center.
Santa Barbra City College students, from left, Jenna McMahon, Melissa Garcia and Nicole Khodabandehlou paint pictures that will adorn the walls of SBCC’s newly opened Dream Center. (Grace Kitayama / Noozhawk photo)

Santa Barbara City College’s Dream Center held its grand opening Wednesday in the Campus Center building.

The Dream Center is a space where undocumented students and allies can receive legal assistance, academic assistance, financial assistance, access to community resources and more through the college. 

Leslie Marin, the student program advisor for the Dream Center, said that just in the past four weeks she has assisted about 60 students seeking services from the center.

The Dream Center is located in Room 228, inside the college’s Centers for Equity and Social Justice, which is a space that offers resources for marginalized students on campus.

“We want to provide a space that was really in the center of campus that wasn’t sort of a hidden, difficult to find location tucked away in an office because we wanted to say, ‘Look, you know, undocumented students are here, and they deserve to be in this space and to occupy this space,’ and we want to provide that for them,” said Roxane Byrne, the coordinator of equity, diversity, and cultural competency. “We wanted to also provide a space that allowed for a sense of confidentiality, and safety and security.

“There are a few different centers here. So, it’s centralized, it’s open, it’s proud.”

The center has been years in the making. According to Byrne, in 2019, Assembly Bill 1645 required college campuses to have a DREAM resource liaison for supporting undocumented students.

“Even prior to that, we were working, developing multiple different grants,” Byrne said. “We’ve been trying to get a Dream Center open for quite some time.”

SBCC’s Dream Center is located inside the college’s Centers for Equity and Social Justice.

SBCC’s Dream Center is located inside the college’s Centers for Equity and Social Justice. (Grace Kitayama / Noozhawk photo)

Funding for the center came through in 2020, and the opening was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“This really has been a labor of love from a lot of people across campus to get this center,” Byrne said.

Marin, who started her role with the center about six weeks ago, was an undocumented student herself who attended SBCC and UC Santa Barbara.

“I am a mere reflection of the students that I work with,” Marin said. “Back when I was a student, there wasn’t really much in terms of assistance for undocumented students. The only assistance that I utilized as a student was getting help from the financial aid office in regards to my DREAM Act application.”

During her time as a student at SBCC, Marin said she saw the need for a resource for undocumented students and started back up the IDEAS Club, which stands for Improving Dreams Equality Access and Success. The club was a space for undocumented students and allies to access support and academic assistance.

According to surveys done by SBCC in 2018 and 2019, the two resources that undocumented students were seeking were immigration assistance and mental health support, according to Byrne.

“When students are undocumented, they don’t qualify for a lot of financial support,” Marin said. “College cannot be accessible if you can’t afford it. And oftentimes, we don’t qualify for a lot of specific scholarships because part of the requirements are you have to be a USA citizen or you have to be AB 540.”

AB 540 is an Assembly bill that allows non-resident student exemptions for paying out-of-state tuition in California. In order to qualify for AB 540, students must either attend a California high school for three or more years, graduate from a California high school or receive the equivalent, such as a GED, and submit an affidavit to the California public college or university they are attending or plan to attend.

Students can write messages of encouragement to one another on a board inside the Dream Center.

Students can write messages of encouragement to one another on a board inside the Dream Center. (Grace Kitayama / Noozhawk photo)

“There’s a lot of misconception regarding who is an undocumented student,” Marin said.

Marin said she doesn’t know how many undocumented students are attending SBCC. Currently, the college tracks only DREAMers and AB 540 recipients as undocumented. 

DREAMer stands for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors and originally came from the bill proposal. The term is often used to describe undocumented minors who were brought to the United States as children and have grown up and gone to school in the United States.

Some students are also Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients who, under an executive order by then-President Obama, are youths granted eligible two-year renewable temporary relief from deportation, given a Social Security number for work authorization and a driver’s license. DACA does not provide a long-term pathway to citizenship.

According to Marin, many students did not identify as being undocumented when they applied for SBCC but are now filling out DREAM Act applications to apply for financial aid. 

Ahislynn Torrescano, a second-year student at SBCC, is a DREAMer and an immigrant.

“I heard about the Dream Center opening, so I went to go talk with the advisor in charge of it and she introduced me to everything,” Torrescano said. “She told me to come join and meet new people and interact with people who are the same as me.”

Torrescano has been attending classes online but has visited the center to speak with an advisor and meet people.

“This year, everything’s online. So I come in here to interact with people and, you know, not just be at home,” she said. “It feels like home. I really like it. I feel like this is my spot where I should be at.”

Noozhawk staff writer Grace Kitayama can be reached at gkitayama@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.