Celebrating the Official Opening of John Jay’s Immigrant Student Success Center

Celebrating the Official Opening of John Jay’s Immigrant Student Success Center

Celebrating the Official Opening of John Jay’s Immigrant Student Success Center

There was a very special reason why numerous City University of New York (CUNY) leaders, public officials, and John Jay students, faculty, staff, and alumni all gathered for breakfast on September 9. The breakfast was the official opening of John Jay’s Immigrant Student Success Center (ImSSC), the first of its kind in the CUNY system. The Center was created specifically to provide legal, academic, financial, and socioemotional support to immigrant, undocumented, DACA, TPS, and refugee students, along with students in mixed-status families.

“Right now, 33 percent of the John Jay student population identifies as immigrant. These students are a vital part of our community, and we have a commitment and responsibility to help them reach their academic and life dreams.”  —Karol V. Mason

The ImSSC, managed by Cynthia Carvajal and funded through generous private donations, offers a safe space for our immigrant students to feel seen, feel connected, and feel supported. It’s a space where immigrant students—regardless of their status—can feel empowered and encouraged by other students facing similar challenges. “Right now, 33 percent of the John Jay student population identifies as immigrant,” said John Jay President Karol V. Mason. “These students are a vital part of our community, and we have a commitment and responsibility to help them reach their academic and life dreams.”

(left to right) José Luis Morín, Latin American and Latinx Studies Professor and Chairperson, and President Mason
(left to right) José Luis Morín, Latin American and Latinx Studies Chairperson and Professor, and President Mason

“When the ImSSC first opened its doors in 2018, it set a new precedent for how this university should welcome and support immigrant students throughout their college experience.” —José Luis Cruz 

Mason went on to thank the strong partners our immigrant community has in CUNY leadership, public officials, higher education advocates, and the John Jay community, expressly thanking: José Luis Cruz, CUNY Executive Vice Chancellor and University Provost; Hector Batista, CUNY Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Operating Officer; Catalina Cruz, New York State Assemblywoman; Guillermo Linares, President of New York State Higher Education Services Corporation; José Luis Morín, Latin American and Latinx Studies Professor and Chairperson; Cynthia Carvajal, Manager of the ImSSC; the generous private donators and board members who helped fund the ImSSC; and our faculty, staff, students, and alumni that supported the creation of the ImSSC.

José Luis Cruz, CUNY Executive Vice Chancellor and University Provost
José Luis Cruz, CUNY Executive Vice Chancellor and University Provost

After a warm welcome from President Mason, Executive Vice Chancellor Cruz told the audience why he was delighted to see such a wonderful turnout supporting John Jay’s ImSSC. “We are here today to celebrate John Jay’s Immigrant Student Success Center as an exemplary program and space within CUNY. When the ImSSC first opened its doors in 2018, it set a new precedent for how this university should welcome and support immigrant students throughout their college experience,” said Cruz, detailing the services that the Center is offering. “The Center also works to increase awareness of immigrant student issues on campus through outreach and advocacy. This has become a safe outlet for people within the John Jay community whose lives are affected every day by the rhetoric, the bureaucracy, and the compromising factors that have regrettably become part of the immigrant experience in the United States over the last several years.” Cruz closed his remarks by showing just how committed Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez is when it comes to supporting immigrant students. Cruz noted that Matos Rodríguez recently wrote an op-ed that appeared in the New York Daily News, stating that the American immigration story is a story not of public burden, but of civic contribution, and that immigrants, refugees, and their children have been educated at CUNY throughout its storied 172-year history.

Cynthia Carvajal, ImSSC Manager
Cynthia Carvajal, ImSSC Manager

President Mason was excited to introduce the audience to the ImSSC’s Manager, Cynthia Carvajal, explaining that, “When a student comes into the Center overwhelmed with immigration questions, it’s Cynthia who finds them the resources that they need. When a student is worried about finding a job or funding for their next semester of classes, it’s Cynthia who's showing them their options. And, when a student comes into the Center just needing a shoulder to cry on, it’s Cynthia who's providing the shoulder,” said Mason. Carvajal, who was born in Guadalajara, Mexico and immigrated to East L.A. when she was five years old, understands the many feelings and challenges our immigrant students face, because she grew up undocumented until she was 17 years old. “At her very core, Cynthia understands that every student—regardless of their status—has the right to be at this College, and they have the right to experience the joy of learning,” said Mason. Carvajal then led a panel discussion with four students who shared how the Center helped them in their educational journey, the impact immigration issues have on their lives, and their hopes for the future of the Center and this country.

Guillermo Linares telling the audience about his journey
Guillermo Linares telling the audience about his journey 

Guillermo Linares, President of the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation put his passion for supporting immigrant students in perspective, by sharing his own story. He told the audience that in 1966 he immigrated from the Dominican Republic to the Bronx, New York. He said that he drove a taxi for long hours into the night just to support his family, but at the same time, he vigorously pursued higher education opportunities. When Linares mentioned that he recently earned his doctorate in Education from Columbia University, he received a well-deserved round of applause.

Powerful immigrant facts that were placed around the room
Powerful immigrant facts that were placed around the room

“Now that you have the Center, bring in other students who may not know about the services. Bring in a student who tells you, I’m a Dreamer or I’m undocumented. Share that love.” —Catalina Cruz ’05

President Mason greeted alumna and New York State Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz ’05 with a warm hug and resounding words of praise. “I’m pleased to welcome New York State Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz. She’s an immigrant. She’s a proud John Jay alumna. And, she’s a fighter when it comes to the rights of immigrants, tenants, workers, and victims,” said Mason. “As a child, Catalina immigrated to New York City from Colombia, and she navigated life as an undocumented immigrant and student. When it comes to our immigrant student population, believe me when I say, Catalina understands your experience and she’s championing your cause.”

Catalina Cruz, New York State Assemblywoman
Catalina Cruz, New York State Assemblywoman

Assemblywoman Cruz told the audience that she made sure her staff found a way to work this breakfast into her schedule because of her own experience as a student at John Jay College. “Back then, I didn’t know what was going to happen because I was undocumented. We didn’t have a Center. Instead, we counted on friends who had done it before—or, if you were lucky enough, you had a professor that knew how the system worked,” said Cruz. “My mom didn’t speak English. She had to work. We as undocumented students had to forge that path together because we didn’t have papers.” For Cruz, working late hours and figuring out how to pay tuition—at one point, even paying out-of-state tuition—felt like a full-time job. But, with the help of her friends she made it through John Jay and went on to graduate from CUNY School of Law. Before the event ended, Cruz asked the students to make her a promise. “Now that you have the Center, bring in other students who may not know about the services. Bring in a student who tells you, I’m a Dreamer or I’m undocumented. Share that love.”  

More scenes from the event:

José Luis Cruz, CUNY Executive Vice Chancellor and University Provost
José Luis Cruz, CUNY Executive Vice Chancellor and University Provost

Guillermo Linares, President of New York State Higher Education Services Corporation
Guillermo Linares, President of New York State Higher Education Services Corporation

Linares greeting Assemblywoman Cruz
Linares greeting Assemblywoman Cruz 

the attendees listend to live music while they enjoyed breakfast
The attendees listened to live music while they enjoyed breakfast