Gamma Phi Omega offers scholarships for undocumented students

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Gamma Phi Omega offers scholarships for undocumented students

Tau chapter, Gamma Phi Omega. Provided.

Tau chapter, Gamma Phi Omega. Provided.

Tau chapter, Gamma Phi Omega. Provided.

Tau chapter, Gamma Phi Omega. Provided.

By Kallie Cox, Staff Reporter

The Tau chapter of the Gamma Phi Omega International Sorority chapter at SIU has been fundraising all year to fund a scholarship for undocumented students.

Students who are undocumented are unable to receive federal financial aid in the United States and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals act is currently being threatened by the Trump administration.

Sandra Rivas, Gamma Phi Omega’s scholarship chair, said the sorority focuses on four goals: community service, sisterhood, cultural awareness and academic excellence.

“We know at SIU there aren’t that many scholarships for Hispanics and even less for undocumented students,” Rivas said. “So when we were founded here, our founders came up with an idea to bring a scholarship for those students who don’t have the funds to continue their education.”

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The sorority has been awarding this scholarship for three years now, and the scholarship is typically awarded to 1-2 students per year.

Rivas said not many students apply and she hasn’t heard of any scholarships like this being offered by the university.

“We know how much of a struggle it is for students who are undocumented to get funds,” Rivas said. “They don’t qualify for financial aid the way other students would, so that shouldn’t be an obstacle for them to not continue their education or to have to drop out because they don’t have the funds for that.”

Rivas said she hopes by offering this scholarship, undocumented students will see they are not alone.

“It is something to help them and to help the community and so they don’t feel like they are alone here, so that they feel like there’s people who support them and would want to encourage them to continue their education.” Rivas said. “To know that they are not alone and that there are people that are there for them and that are helping them.”

The sorority held bake sales, car washes and other events throughout the year and has accepted accepts donations throughout the year in order to fund the scholarship, according to Rivas.

Rivas said undocumented students should not be afraid to apply for the scholarship because they have the support of not only the sorority but the community as a whole.

Oneida Vargas, a senior majoring in political science, received the scholarship her junior and senior year at SIU – the first time she said she received $100 and the second time $300.

Vargas was born in Mexico in 1997 when her mother was 19 and her father was 18. A year later, her brother was born.

“We were extremely poor; we were in the farm side of Mexico and we had no food to eat,” Vargas said. “We literally had nothing, so my dad immigrated to work in the United States and then bring money back, but then he actually decided to save up money and bring my mom, my brother and I with him.”

Vargas said her family immigrated to the U.S. in 1998 and has remained in Chicago ever since.

She said she heard about the scholarship because she knows some of the individuals in the sorority and follows their social media pages, but had previously only heard of scholarships for undocumented students on a larger level.

“I didn’t think I would find anything like that in southern Illinois, given the area we are in,” Vargas said. “So when I did, I was completely surprised and really, really happy that existed for myself and for incoming students.”

Vargas said she plans on using the money from the scholarship for books for next semester.

“Buying books at the beginning of each semester, it’s always a struggle to get the money to do that,” Vargas said. “That just took off that pressure.”

Vargas said she hopes the university will learn from Gamma Phi Omega.

“If the university could do something like this, I think it would be even better because they have more of the means to do better fundraising,” Vargas said. “SIU should learn from them and potentially come up with a scholarship like that of their own.”

Students applying for the scholarship, a one time award from $200 to $800, must be undocumented and have a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.5 to apply.

The form said consideration will be given based on demonstrated academic achievement, community and campus involvement and financial need. Applications for this semester close on April 7, 2019. 

Staff reporter Kallie Cox can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @KallieECox.

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