The Homegirl Project interviewed Sophy Fonteyn on her journey advocating for undocumented students through the nonprofit UndocuSTEM. For our full essay on Sophy, click here.
By Malavika Kannan
How has your immigrant identity impacted your life?
Immigrants are one of the most vulnerable groups in our society. They need to be supported, embraced and given opportunities. Let's not forget that this nation was largely built by immigrants. As an immigrant myself, I feel committed to advancing services and resources for all immigrants. It is my hope to give forward now that I have the knowledge and the education. I definitely know how it feels being treated as a second-class citizen due to my legal status, and I will work hard to bring about the necessary changes to the present system.
Can you share your story of co-founding UndocuSTEM?
I witnessed my brother struggle to find mentors, services, resources, and internship opportunities as a science major during his undergrad studies due to his status as an undocumented student. Because of these setbacks, he was not able to stay on track to apply for medical school. Seeing the need that he had, both of us decided to create something that would make it easier for other students like him. This is how the UndocuSTEM Project was born.
What are your thoughts on how women of color can overcome their obstacles?
Personally, I have overcome significant discrimination, racism, and sexism through education. Earning a Bachelors and now a Masters has, without a doubt, given me more confidence and knowledge to fight these problems. I believe that if more women of color had the opportunity to become professionals, they would be able to change education, labor, the government, the economy, the environment, and policy-making. It is said that when women are empowered, a whole community is forever changed. I do believe this, since most of my mentors happened to be educated women who supported me through my personal, academic, and professional journey.
Who inspires you in life?
Every individual who has struggled, transformed their lives, and aimed to be of service to others. I have great respect for all my female mentors who taught me how to persevere, dream big, pursue higher education, and, most importantly, find a way to give forward and support others' goals so that together, we can get to the finish line. Finally, every child who was stripped away from opportunities due to poverty, war, and violence. Children who I might be able to help in the near future. They all make life worth fighting for.
Education has been a transformative field in your life. Why did you choose to study social work?
Honestly, I hope I can encourage others, males and females, to never be afraid of things that appear to be far, like higher education. I want to contribute and change the fact that social work is viewed as a useless career. Instead, I want to represent my field with pride and love, showing that social workers play key roles in bringing change to our communities, families, and society.
The key theme of The Homegirl Project is "female empowerment." How does this issue impact your own life?
I feel a great responsibility as a young female, person of color, undocumented immigrant, and first generation college student to show that even with my background, it is possible to achieve greatness. We need more females to become educated professionals, to run for Congress, to be entrepreneurs, to open job opportunities, to change policies that affect us all, and to gain the respect we deserve, just like all our male counterparts. It is my hope to pave a pathway for other females, young and old, to create opportunities by supporting one other.
What are your plans moving forward, both personally and for UndocuSTEM?
I hope to pursue a PhD in the near future. However, I want to enter the work force as a professional social worker for now. I want to gain experience in the field so later I will be able to bring about changes on a macro- and micro-level. In addition, I will be working becoming a LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) to help clients with trauma and mental health.
What is one issue that you want to change about the world?
Compassion! This is a key element that the world is in desperate need of. If we were to treat each other with compassion, we would care and look after one another out of love, rather than necessity or obligation. With compassion, there would be no need to feel superior to others and many of the social problems we face presently would be non-existent, such as poverty, domestic violence, discrimination, injustice, war, and child abuse.