Educational inequality is alive and well in America. More specifically, it’s currently rearing its head in the great state of Georgia. Having recently passed a bill that bans undocumented immigrants from attending the top five universities in the state, Georgia has effectively sent a message of strong disdain to undocumented students. The bill, passed last week, also states that these undocumented students can attend Georgia’s lesser universities, those ranked below the top five in state, but are required to pay out-of-state tuition if accepted.
Naturally, these new legal stipulations were not well received by the students they are so pointedly aimed at. Protests broke out at state universities and in the capitol practically overnight. Interestingly enough, those now prevented from educating undocumented students have been the first to respond positively to this crisis.
Enter Freedom University, an alternative school for undocumented students that draws its name from schools set up to educate African Americans in the Deep South during the civil rights movement. Professors from a number of the state’s best colleges and universities have come together to create a sort of underground form of educational opportunity for these students, offering them classes during nights and weekends in Athens, Georgia.
University of Georgia history professor Pam Voekel is one of the educators at the forefront of these alternative education efforts. “They really do see this as a civil rights struggle. They are being excluded from higher education, and so we went with that as part of that kind of tribute to that prior struggle,” said Voekel after teaching a Freedom University class during some of her free time last weekend.
Though this bill certainly has an ample share of supporters, the movement against it is growing rapidly. Professors from a number of schools have begun to donate their time, knowledge and efforts to the betterment of Freedom University. Their efforts are driven by an understanding that supporters of the recent bill do not hold: that undocumented students are no less qualified to learn by virtue of their citizenship status than any of their America-born peers.
Consider the example of Martin Lopez Galicia, a 21-year-old Freedom University student who has lived in the United States since he was four years old. Galicia, like many American students, could not afford a state university and enrolled in junior college, hoping to gain the necessary credits to transfer into a more prestigious school. Shortly after beginning classes, though, he was informed that he had to pay an additional $2,000 dollars — out-of-state tuition — due to his undocumented status. He could not come up with the money and was forced to leave school. He now takes classes at Freedom University in hopes of advancing himself and his mind.
Perhaps what is most interesting here is that these Freedom University students are fully aware of the fact that they are not receiving credits that can be transferred anywhere, given the unaccredited nature of this school. These students are working solely to better their minds in hopes that some good will come from it.
Few things can come across as honorably as that sort of dignity and repose in the face of great adversity. Regardless of what those in favor of the bill think of the presence of undocumented individuals in our nation, it seems hard to imagine that they could deny the following claim: Withholding education from anyone has never made things any better. Rather, it has before and will again lead swiftly to negative repercussions.