Student at Rutgers-Newark named Schwarzman Scholar

<p>Esder Chong founded a student organization to advocate for other undocumented students and helped to set up the Undocumented Student Services office.</p>

Esder Chong founded a student organization to advocate for other undocumented students and helped to set up the Undocumented Student Services office.


Esder Chong, a School of Arts and Sciences senior at Rutgers—Newark, has been named a Schwarzman Scholar for her activism in fighting for the rights of undocumented students like herself, according to an article on Rutgers Today.

Out of 4,700 worldwide applicants, Chong was selected as 1 of 145 scholars to receive this honor, according to the article. This honor gives scholars the chance to pursue a master’s degree in global affairs at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

If Chong leaves to accept this scholarship, she may be unable to return to the United States, according to the article.

“When I heard that I was chosen, I felt conflicted. It was a moment of celebration but also a harsh reminder of my situation,” Chong said, according to the article. “But I’m also very thankful to be recognized with this scholarship and grateful to my parents, friends, Rutgers faculty and staff and the immigrant rights community for supporting my academic and professional ambitions.”

Chong was recommended for the Schwarzman Scholarship by Rutgers—Newark Chancellor Nancy Cantor, according to the article.

“Esder is a change agent who represents the best hope of her generation to take on the fractured social and civil landscape she and her peers are inheriting,” Cantor said, according to the article.

She learned in her senior year in high school that she would be ineligible for state and federal financial aid for higher education due to her undocumented status, Chong said, according to the article. 

After looking for private scholarships, she said she was able to receive a national scholarship to attend Rutgers—Newark from TheDream.US, according to the article.

As a first-year student, Chong founded RU Dreamers, which is a student organization that advocates for undocumented students’ right to receive higher education, according to the article. She created inclusive spaces and established the Undocumented Student Services office with the help of the Rutgers University administration.

Chong was invited by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) to attend President Donald J. Trump’s first State of the Union address after he rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), according to the article. 

She also advocated for a bill that ensured financial equity for Dreamers, young undocumented immigrants who were brought into the United States by their parents, in New Jersey, according to the article. Chong was at the press conference at Rutgers—Newark where Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) signed the bill in 2018.

Chong is working to help pass legislation in New Jersey that allows undocumented individuals to apply for driver’s licenses, according to the article.

“The Schwarzman Scholarship should be applauded for ignoring the precariousness of her situation when deciding to recognize her with this great honor,” said Arthur D. Casciato, director of the Rutgers’ Office of Distinguished Fellowships, according to the article. “Even if politics conspires to keep Esder from joining her cohort in Beijing, there’s absolutely no doubt that she’ll continue to battle for those most vulnerable in American society.”

The future of DACA is not clear as it is still being reviewed by the Supreme Court, according to the article. A decision is expected by June and the Schwarzman program begins in August.

“I am very frustrated with politics, but I have hope in the power of community activism,” Chong said, according to the article.

Chong was part of the hundreds of DACA supporters that rallied outside the Supreme Court last month, according to the article.

“What I realized standing there in the morning in the freezing cold with immigrants and allies was that we were doing this not just for policy change but for a sense of solidarity with the community,” Chong said, according to the article.

Chong plans to continue her activism regardless of whether she is unable to participate in the scholarship program or not, according to the article.

“I’m tired of being told to wait. What are we waiting for?” Chong said. “The worst-case scenario where thousands of DACA recipients, Americans, lose their status? I hope states like New Jersey do the right thing by prioritizing legislation … to practically support undocumented Americans.”


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