EdMedia Commons Archive

Ethics of Quoting Undocumented Students by Name

In writing about President Obama’s new immigration policy, I was pointed to an undocumented student, and told that she was willing to be quoted by name. I asked her about this at beginning of interview, and she said that indeed she had indicated this, but she wasn’t sure. Was it safe, she asked me, for her to be quoted by name. I imagine my colleagues who write about K-12 students regularly face ethical issues related to quoting them by name. Covering higher ed, sometimes people want to be anonymous, but this was first time I had been asked by a student whether being quoted by name would be safe.

My normal inclination is to talk people into letting me quote them by name. Here I opted not to. While the student was a college junior (no worries about quoting someone too young to understand), she wasn’t sure. I have been told by some experts on undocumented students that they worry a lot about such students “outing” themselves, as they may not appreciate the full ramifications of being Googled (even under Obama’s new rules). And there is another ethical issue they’ve told me about: A student who shouts that he or she is undocumented may also draw attention to parents, siblings or others — some of whom may not want to be public or have legal protections of Obama’s new policy (which wouldn’t help parents, for example).

I’m seeing lots of undocumented students quoted by name these days. I’m curious if I wimped out by not following my usual practice of trying hard to quote people by name. Have others been asked the “would it be safe?” question? Are there best practices on quoting undocumented students? Does age of student make a difference?

–Scott


This post originally appeared on EWA’s now-defunct online community, EdMedia Commons. Old content from EMC will appear in the Ed Beat archives.