Fairfield University receives Ford Foundation Grant to lead national study of undocumented immigrant students



Fairfield University's Center for Faith and Public Life has been awarded a two-year, $200,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to study the education of undocumented students at Jesuit universities. Fairfield University will lead the project, collaborating with Santa Clara University in California and Loyola University Chicago.

Under the grant, a research study will seek to survey and understand the social context and current practices and attitudes in American Jesuit schools of higher education regarding undocumented students. The study will consider, among other things, structures that support or challenge the higher education of undocumented students; best practices and strategies for ensuring their eventual success; a potential collaborative model for helping students as they move through their university years; and issues facing students after graduation.

Jeffrey von Arx, S.J., president of Fairfield University, said, "What sets Jesuit institutions apart is their deep engagement with the common good through their approach of serving students in their community, including undocumented students, to fulfill their highest potential. We recognize the urgency of examining the issues and barriers confronting undocumented students as they attempt to navigate the landscape of higher education."

Image: Rick RyscavageRichard Ryscavage, S.J., professor of sociology and director of the Center for Faith and Public Life at Fairfield, who will serve as director of the project, said, "There is very little hard data about the situation of undocumented students in American universities. This grant will allow us to make a major contribution to the national understanding of the problem."

A former national director of the Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, Ryscavage said, "The Catholic notion of the Common Good means creating the social conditions that allow for the full flourishing of the human person. Migrants are often denied these conditions so we have made the study of immigration, refugees and the needs of undocumented people a centerpiece of our work at the Center. "

Leading the research team, consisting of law and social science faculty from all three institutions, will be Dr. Kurt Schlichting, the E. Gerald Corrigan professor of sociology and anthropology at Fairfield.           

von Arx said he and the other two presidents, Michael Engh, S.J., president of Santa Clara University, and Michael Garazini, S.J., president of Loyola Chicago, are deeply engaged in the issues of undocumented students. "The collaboration will benefit from the very different geographic and demographic regions and wide range of programs and degrees that our universities represent," he said. "Fairfield is at the forefront of the examination of issues relating to immigration. Through their research, programmatic initiatives and policy study, our faculty and administrators are already working in this area from a variety of disciplinary approaches."

The project is designed to stimulate a sustained dialogue with the 28 Jesuit schools of higher education in the United States by asking two questions: What are the current practices among our schools? And what challenges do we face in trying to serve these students? A final policy paper, highlighting the results of the study, will include a moral argument, anchored in Catholic social teaching, for better meeting the needs of undocumented students.           

While the initial project is geared to Jesuit colleges and universities, von Arx said the long-range plan is to broaden the scope of data collection beyond the Jesuit network and conduct research on the topic across the United States higher education system.

The Center for Faith and Public Life was established at Fairfield University in 2005 in response to the growing global awareness of the influence of religion on public affairs. Anchored in the rich traditions of Catholic social thought and Jesuit spirituality, the Center respects diversity while promoting the common good. Recently the Center completed a study of religious language and the national immigration debate in the United States that was funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on August 10, 2010