The Cruz-Morales Twins Are Excited to Set the World on Fire
Melanie and Sheila Cruz-Morales (C’23) are ready to change the world. The twin sisters, who will both graduate from the College of Arts & Sciences this month, are already accustomed to advocating for change and bridging the gap between the world as it exists and the world as it could be.
The sisters are outstanding scholars, immigration activists and organizers who have moved mountains to attain a college degree. And they’re not interested in pulling the ladder up behind them – the Cruz-Morales twins want to help other undocumented, low-income students navigate the system of higher education.
The Long Road to the Hilltop
The Cruz-Morales sisters immigrated from Oaxaca, Mexico when they were just 4 years old. As such, they are considered undocumented students who have protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
Undocumented students face significant hurdles when pursuing higher education – fewer funding sources are available, some fellowships bar applicants based on their citizenship, and many institutions place additional barriers to entry. Cognizant of the financial and logistical complications associated with a four-year university, the Cruz-Morales sisters decided to first pursue a two-year degree closer to home.
At Bergen Community College, the sisters excelled — making straight As in every single class, gaining acceptance into the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, taking courses in the Judith K. Winn School of Honors, engaging in clubs outside of class time, and working three jobs each. Melanie remembers working nearly 39 hours a week as a tutor, a receptionist at a grooming salon and a seller at a farmers market for a local pickle company on top of her 15-credit hour course load.
During all of that, the Cruz-Morales sisters established their own nonprofit organization, College Access for Non-Citizens, or C.A.N. for short.
“College Access for Non-Citizens is a community-based organization that helps undocumented, first-generation, low-income students of color attain access to higher education,” explained Melanie. “We help those students with state financial aid applications, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, college application processes and counseling – ensuring that people can access the resources they need.”
Among the many resources that C.A.N. offers, the Cruz-Morales sisters are particularly proud of the fundraisers and mutual aid events they have organized to assist DACA recipients pay for the biennial renewal application fee.
Their hard work, in the classroom and out, paid off when the sisters were accepted to Georgetown as transfer students.
Making the Most of Georgetown
The Cruz-Morales sisters transferred to Georgetown in 2020 right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, when Hoyas were learning remotely. Even so, they built a rich community of first-generation students on campus.
“We were transfers during the pandemic living on campus and doing virtual classes,” remembered Sheila. “Despite that, we were able to cultivate such a beautiful community on campus with other first-generation students.”
The Cruz-Morales sisters immediately hit the ground running when they arrived on the Hilltop. In their first semester, both sisters were elected to the Georgetown University Student Association (GUSA). Melanie was elected the vice speaker of the Senate and the following year assumed the role of speaker, and Sheila served as the chief communications officer for GUSA. As part of GUSA, they continued their advocacy for undocumented and low-income students, helping funnel university and federal resources for students adapting to the reality of the pandemic.
Sheila is a government major and a women’s and gender studies minor. Melanie is a double major in philosophy and government. In their academic paths, Melanie was drawn to the Department of Philosophy after hearing about “this really cool professor” Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò in community college.
“When I came to Georgetown, I sought out Professor Táíwò’s class on the philosophy of reparations,” said Melanie. “That has been a very impactful experience to be a philosopher and learn from one of America’s most prominent philosophers. It’s the opportunity that you only get at Georgetown.”
Sheila decided to minor in women’s and gender studies because of Donna Brazile, a veteran political strategist and analyst who has taught a course on women in American politics for more than two decades in the College of Arts & Sciences.
“Taking Professor Brazile’s course nurtured my love for gender studies and activism,” said Sheila. “Professor Brazile is empowering and inspiring and she let us know that we can be the people who are shaping this country.”
Both Sheila and Melanie have worked as teaching assistants in subsequent semesters for Brazile.
“As a professor and strong advocate for civic engagement of young people, I am extremely proud of the Cruz-Morales sisters,” said Brazile. “They are extraordinary women and a great example of women who dare to make a difference.”
The Cruz-Morales sisters have also made a difference outside of the classroom. Melanie received both a fellowship at the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor and an internship at the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Sheila has completed internships at the Housing Partnership Network and the Affordable Housing Tax Credit Coalition, advocating for more federal affordable housing opportunities. Both sisters are members of the Georgetown Scholars Program (GSP).
“Sheila and Melanie have been so good to Georgetown,” said Melissa Foy, executive director of GSP. “Whether advocating for students with marginalized identities or for more resources for programs like GSP, I truly can’t imagine Georgetown without them. Their futures are exceptionally bright, and Georgetown will be so proud to call them alumnae.”
Setting the World on Fire
The Cruz-Morales sisters continue to advocate for immigration reform and marginalized identities on a larger stage. In the fall of 2023, Sheila and Melanie were invited to an event at the White House with President Biden. At the event, Sheila spoke with President Biden about the importance of immigration reform, creating a pathway to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants.
Sheila has even made a cameo in one of Biden’s recent campaign videos.
“It was a true testament to how impactful Sheila’s work has been,” Melanie said of her sister. “In the video, you can see Sheila say ‘immigration reform for all 11 million.’ It speaks to the power Sheila had at that moment to represent an entire community of people.”
After three years on the Hilltop, the Cruz-Morales sisters are glad they decided to transfer to Georgetown. Both sisters are planning to apply to law school, and in the meantime, will continue to live in Washington, DC, and work in politics.
“When we arrived at Georgetown, we wanted to soak up everything in the short amount of time we had,” said Sheila. “I am grateful and humbled to say we accomplished so much more than we ever intended. It’s because of hard work and persistence, but also because of the magic that can only happen at Georgetown.”
-by Hayden Frye (C’17)