A Change Agent in the Community
Balancing six classes, conducting research, teaching English literacy classes on the weekends, interning in the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, and starting her own club that advocates for immigrants and refugees may seem like a hefty schedule for a college student to balance, but for Taslim Tavarez ’18, it is part of her daily mission to be a change agent for the Pace Community.
Taslim Tavarez, a political science and peace and justice studies double major and Honors College student, works tirelessly on and off the NYC Campus toward her goal of becoming an immigration attorney to help undocumented immigrant high school students—like she once was—navigate how they can go to college.
“I want to help students who feel like college isn’t a feasible option for them and connect them to resources about scholarship opportunities that are available, specifically for undocumented students,” Tavarez says. “It’s about really trying to help them overcome the barriers that prevent them from becoming residents or citizens.”
Tavarez, who was born in the Dominican Republic but relocated to Miami, Florida, when she was nine years old, was an undocumented immigrant for several years after she moved—a situation that she says proved challenging when she was applying to universities and navigating how she was going to afford her education.
It wasn’t until her senior year that she was able to secure residency after her mother hired an immigration attorney and applied for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)—an executive order that was released by President Obama in 2012 to allow students currently in high school or people under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012, to apply for deferred action for a period of two years, subject to renewal.
“Through DACA I was able to apply for college because if I didn’t have residency, I wouldn’t have been able to apply for financial aid,” says Tavarez. “My last year of high school, I was able to get my paperwork and then I applied to schools that were still accepting admissions. Pace happened to be one of them, and I really wanted to come to New York City because I thought it would be a great place for opportunities and internships.”
At Pace, Tavarez has earned several prestigious internships and awards that have helped her work closer toward achieving her goal. During her freshman year, she was awarded a Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship, a highly selective three-year fellowship that further expands the vision of promising students, and develops their potential to become effective and humane leaders.
Through the fellowship program, Tavarez landed a fully-funded strategic development intern position at the Institute of International Education (IIE) during the summer after her freshman year, through which she conducted research and explored institutional synergies within Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Malaysia, and Bangladesh that would foster growth in new directions and expand the Institute’s global network.
She was also a racial equity intern at 100 Resilient Cities—an organization pioneered by The Rockefeller Foundation that helps make cities more resilient to physical, social, and economic challenges—where she initiated the social media campaign #IAmBoston and #WeAreBoston, and facilitated the development of a framework for Boston to develop and implement a resilience and racial equity lens within government.
Currently, Tavarez is interning at the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and she volunteers and recruits Pace students to volunteer for the office’s “We Are New York” program, which helps immigrant New Yorkers practice English through volunteer-led conversation groups.
“Interning at the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs is a really amazing experience, and I am so happy to be in this place right now because it aligns with what I want to pursue in the future,” she says.
Longing to explore her passion for helping immigrant high school students navigate college, she decided to bring the issue to light on the NYC Campus by creating a new student club during the fall semester called Advocates Bringing Resources to Immigrants and Refugees (ABRIR).
“ABRIR, which means ‘open’ in Spanish, intends to open doors of opportunity for documented and undocumented immigrant students throughout New York City by connecting them with students at Pace who will help the immigrant community of New York City at large,” Tavarez says.
Though the club is still new, Tavarez has been receiving positive feedback, responses, and interest from students about ABRIR.
“Students from all different backgrounds have reached out to me with an interest in participating in the cause and volunteering to teach English conversation classes,” she says. “I really want to talk about tackling these issues head on, try to address them, and do whatever we can to help these communities overcome the challenges they have to face.”
Tavarez is currently in the process of planning a panel discussion with professors to discuss issues around immigrants and refugees, a topic she says is especially pressing given the election year and how immigration has become a dividing issue.
“I am trying to bring more information about these issues—bring light to both sides of it—and help students understand this controversial issue so they can get a more educated opinion on it,” she says.
In addition to her work concerning immigration, Tavarez advocates for students in several other ways as treasurer of SABOR Latino, and as a resource in the Study Abroad Office for students applying to the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program—an award she received in 2015 that allowed her to travel to Bolivia and research femicide in the country.
While in Bolivia, Tavarez conducted interviews with local activists, lawyers, and nonprofit organizations that were doing work around femicide and how Bolivia was trying to overcome this barrier. She created a film titled Vivas Nos Queremos that shows some of the challenges Bolivia faces, including how people get away with femicide despite laws that attempt to punish people for violence against women.
Through all her efforts, Tavarez hopes she will be remembered as someone who made a difference while she was at Pace.
“I want to be remembered as a change agent—someone who is able to create change not only on campus, but also within the community,” she says. “I want to be known as someone who was able to create change for immigrants, something that is so interconnected with my personal background.”
In May 2017, Tavarez was selected as a 2017 Truman Scholar, one of just 62 students across the nation selected to receive the award this year. The Truman award has become one of the most prestigious national scholarships in the United States. Recipients of the Truman Scholarship receive a $30,000 scholarship toward graduate school and the opportunity to participate in professional development programming to help prepare them for careers in public service leadership.
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