By: Dina Sayedahmed
As the fight for higher education continues, Rutgers University-Newark awards Giancarllo Tello, student and social justice activist, a $22k scholarship, allowing him to complete his Bachelor’s degree.
After completing his Associate’s degree at Bergen County Community College, Tello transferred to Rutgers University-Newark, where he paid $2,700 for one three-credit course. Despite the fact that he lived in New Jersey for the past 17 years, Tello was being charged at the international student rate due to his undocumented status.
“I worked several jobs, but I could only afford one class per semester,” Tello explains. After the Spring 2012 semester, he decided to take a temporary break from school in order to invest more of his time in advocating for undocumented students’ rights.
While at BCCC, Tello became active in the New Jersey United Students movement and in March 2013, he was elected as Campaign Chair for the New Jersey Tuition Equity campaign. Tello emphasizes the importance of organizing state-wide campaigns and “going where the people are”. Through community forums and awareness campaigns, Tello and his colleagues were able to create pressure and build up support through mayoral and county letters. Working with legislators, they continue to draft and improve bills that will improve the state of living of undocumented students.
Rutgers University’s unique decision to support undocumented students was met with serious derision. At a recent town hall meeting, Chris Christie ridiculed Tello and his colleagues as “professional protesters”. Executive director for the Center for Immigration Studies Mark Krikorian told The Record that giving undocumented students scholarships harms documented students. Others have argued that by supporting undocumented Americans, this encourages “law breaking”.
However, it is worth noting that undocumented Americans also pay taxes and swear allegiance to the same flag that documented Americans swear allegiance to. “Truly outstanding students should be supported at a public university,” Vice-Chancellor Peter Englot told North Jersey. “This is not a zero-sum game,” Englot told Latino Fox News. “A dollar spent here [does not translate into] a dollar not spent somewhere else…We’re trying to grow a bigger pie.”
Several students paying in-state tuition rates have voiced concern and regret over the rising tuition yet brazenly opposed Rutgers’ decision to support an undocumented student. Their claims surround the fallacy that tuition will continue to increase so long as undocumented students continue to “deplete” public universities’ supplies. However, what many students do not realize is that tuition and fees have been steadily increasing. The greater question is not whether or not undocumented students are recipients of Rutgers scholarships, but why higher education has now become a luxury and not a right—for both, documented and undocumented students. Students should instead organize against the increased rates. As Tello states, “Higher education should not be a privilege. That only the wealthy should receive a college education is a culture in America and it needs to shift soon.”
Giancarllo continues to advocate through the Rutgers Student Union, where he and his colleagues will lead the fight against campus sexual harassment and tuition equity between Rutgers campuses.