By Sunny Nakae
In May the Stritch alumni magazine published a cover feature article about our first cohort of DACA recipients admitted to the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine and their impending graduation. We received both positive and negative correspondence about this feature. What follows is a compilation of complaints I received from some alumni and a summary of the responses I offered.
“As an alum I am disappointed in your policy to admit DACA recipients over US citizens. Because you are admitting non-US citizens that means a US citizen will not get a seat. Supporting undocumented students violates Federal Law. Did these DACA recipients get ‘affirmative action’ status? Candidates should get admitted because of their credentials, not because they are minorities or immigrants. What constitutes the right minority? It seems like Japanese, Korean and Chinese are no longer considered minorities but smaller Asian groups like Hmong are? In my graduating class there are many of us who will no longer be supporting the school.”
Dear Stritch Alum,
Thank you, sincerely, for expressing your current views on our decision to accept MD applications from DACA recipients. This happened in 2012 with the support of our then dean, Dr. Linda Brubaker, and our then president, Fr. Michael Garanzini, S.J The inclusion of DACA recipients continues to receive full support from our current dean, Dr. Steven Goldstein, and our president, Dr. JoAnn Rooney. It seems from your email that you might not have all of the facts for the situation, so I would like to open a dialogue and provide those facts for you and any colleagues with whom you wish to share this information. I understand that at first glance this decision may appear to disenfranchise other applicants, specifically those of Asian descent or US citizens.
Let’s begin with DACA. First, the program is a federal offering through US Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS), which has the authority to grant stays of deportation, commonly referred to as “deferred action” to any immigrant meeting specific, allowable criteria under current law. The executive order signed by President Obama extended this existing USCIS provision for childhood arrivals of undocumented immigrants by establishing criteria for deferred action for the entire population. DACA allows individuals to register with USCIS and receive these stays of deportation pending no criminal history, paying a fee, and re-enrolling every two years. Through DACA, individuals receive a work authorization that allows them to work legally and pay taxes. DACA recipients are not eligible for any federal programs, including student loans. In order to qualify, individuals must have been brought to the United States as minors. Many of our students have grown up in America and are prepared to dedicate their lives to medicine as physicians in the United States. As children they did not have autonomy to break the law, and now they are caught in a broken system that is unable to rectify their status.
Our decision to open our doors is consistent with our Jesuit values, as our fellow Jesuit and Catholic institutions around the country have done the same. We have matriculated 34 DACA recipients over the last 4 years and welcomed 7 more this coming year in the class of 2022. The second most common country of origin for our DACA students at Stritch is Korea. The Asian identity designations for DACA at Stritch are equal to the total number of students we have from Mexico. There are a total of 20 countries represented among our current students who are DACA that include the United Kingdom, Lebanon, Trinidad and Tobago and Nigeria – a departure from the typical media narrative. All Stritch students are selected by the faculty based on their merit; DACA recipients are no exception.
We are now a truly diverse and inclusive school. Last year we received 30% more applications than the year prior – 15,016 AMCAS submissions – for 165 seats. This was the most applications in school history and can be attributed – at least in part – to our reputation as an inclusive school for students of all backgrounds, origins, and faiths. The admissions committee employs holistic review for applications, meaning they read them before making decisions – it goes well beyond mere numbers. Last year our review committee did over 10,000 reviews. This commitment has allowed us to recognize talent with a wide lens and has increased the number of Asian students at our school every year. When I arrived at Stritch in September of 2014, the previous entering class had just 23 Asian students. The year before there were only 18. When we further aligned our admissions process with our mission and began rigorous holistic review, 57 Asian students entered in 2015 and that number has remained strong (50 Asian students in the Class of 2021).
We frame diversity very broadly. Among our class of 2021 they collectively speak 42 languages. 87% of them are at least bilingual, while 37% of them speak three or more languages. These candidates are well prepared to execute our mission of meeting the needs of underserved communities locally and globally. We examine their experiences, attributes and metrics and seek the candidates with the greatest degree of mission fit across our broad criteria.
Lastly, our environment among students reflects our beautifully diverse student body. We have a thriving Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association (APAMSA) chapter, for example, which was not the case in years past. We also have a very active South Asian Medical Student Association (SAMSA) Chapter newly founded a few years ago.
I personally would like to invite you and your colleagues to Stritch. I would love to sit down and talk further with you about any of these issues. Thank you for allowing me to respond to these concerns.
Sunny Nakae, MSW, PhD, is a clinical associate professor of social medicine, population, and public health and Associate Dean for Student Affairs at the University of California-Riverside School of Medicine. She has previously held administrative positions at the University of Utah School of Medicine, Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, and Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. She is the author of Premed Prep: Advice from a Medical School Admissions Dean (Rutgers University Press, 2020)