Diversity and Democracy

The Strength of Our Solidarity: A Student Reflection

Rafael Aragón was born in Mexico and arrived in the United States at the age of six. Since joining Freedom University in January 2017, Aragón has been an active student leader, participating in direct actions and speaking on panels across the country. He received a full scholarship to Eastern Connecticut State University and plans to study cognitive behavioral psychology beginning in fall 2018.

“Movements are multidimensional: they [comprise] a lot of different people, doing many different things, over a long period of time, all working toward one common goal.” When I first heard these words from veteran civil rights leader and Freedom University board member Charles Black, I realized the power we hold when we fight together.

Of the many lessons I’ve learned at Freedom University, the importance of building a strong community is the most significant. The success of everything we seek to accomplish at Freedom University depends on the strength of our solidarity with one another. We changed the admissions policy at Emory because we built a coalition with Emory students through the Freedom at Emory initiative. In 2015, as a result of our advocacy, Emory announced it would accept academically qualified DACA students without discrimination and provide them need-based financial aid. Because of our work with the Emory Sanctuary Coalition, Emory decided in 2017 to expand its admissions policy to accept undocumented students without DACA. We also lifted two public universities off the list of schools that ban undocumented students in Georgia under Policy 4.1.6 because we stood together in an act of civil disobedience at a Georgia Board of Regents meeting. As individual students, we learn, grow, and achieve because we have a supportive community to turn to when things get too difficult for us on our own. The hopelessness we might have felt before finding Freedom University dissipates when we learn from teachers who look like us or share a similar experience, and when alumni visit our classes to advise and encourage us.

In my journey, I have found encouragement in meeting Freedom University’s mental health coordinator, Carissa Balderas, someone who understands me and is even from the same part of Mexico where my father was born. Watching Carissa work as a therapist to improve the mental well-being of immigrant youth—a career path I hope to follow—has solidified my resolve to keep striving toward my goals. After years of trying to tackle the world alone, with its walls, borders, and obstacles, I now understand that working collectively is the most effective way to transform the world for the better. Because of my experience at Freedom University, I know that whenever I encounter injustice, I have the tools to mobilize people around me to fight for our human rights.

Rafael Aragón is a Freedom University Student Committee Member, Former Freedom University Student, and Eastern Connecticut State University Student.

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