Every year, a lot of international students come to the US to study at American Universities. According to the latest’ Open doors’ report, over 1 million international students were enrolled in American Universities in the academic year of 2019-2020. Founded in the year 1870, Wellesley College is one of the oldest private colleges in the US. International students from around 57 countries have enrolled in several courses in this college. Apart from providing financial aids for international students, there is an ‘International Student’s Union’ (ISU) in Wellesley College. The union’s aim to look after the specific needs of the international students in this college by ‘fundamentally changing the culture’ of the college.
But achieving that goal is not that easy as the ISU members cannot meet each other in person due to the pandemic. However, the ISU plans to bring some operational changes that aspire to change the institution’s culture.
Issues to deal with
Under Trump’s administration, life was extremely difficult for international students in the US. Several actions were taken by the US government, such as suspending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which was deemed as a xenophobic move. The program allowed some of the illegal immigrants who had arrived in the country as a child a fighting chance to stay in the country and receive a work permit to sustain themselves.
Apart from the national policies, international students face several internal issues that the ISU wants to address. Recently, the vice president and the Dean of the Students at Wellesley College, Sheliah Horton, had passed a notice that introduced some ‘structural barriers in the paths of an international student. The notice urged all the students working off the campus to quit their jobs. Most international students have to work in a different place to keep up with the high costs of studying at an American University. According to an ISU member, ‘structural barriers, such as this one will curb international students to realize their full potential. It might not be the same for all international students, but the member issued this statement keeping the undocumented or low-income students in mind.
This is considered a too harsh move as the pandemic has been testing these international students’ patience. While they have been trying to improve their financial status and continue their education, most of them cannot secure necessary documents due to the pandemic restrictions. It can be seen that the immigration office in Framingham has not been co-operating with the international students at all as they are reluctant to issue social-security numbers to them. These students must get these documents as it will help them to land a secure job. Moreover, the US consulate in several countries is closed due to the pandemic. Hence, according to ISU members, international students are not able to renew their visas. As a result, they are being stripped of their ability to come back to the country.
Moreover, the ISU is also against a few specific policies, such as Homeland Security’s decision to suspend students on F and J visas in the US. While an international student requires an F visa to study in an American University, J Visas are issued to ‘exchange visitors,’ which includes students in the exchange program. The covid-19 pandemic leads to the development of xenophobic sentiments in the US government. The order was issued on 29th May 2020, which resulted in a suspension of entry of several international students from the Republic of China. The ISU members believe that it is difficult for the students to produce all the necessary documents quickly, and it is unjust to cancel their four-year-long visa in the country.
Unlike the ‘Slater International Institute’ at Wellesley College, which the administration runs, ISU is wholly made up of the international students themselves. The interest of conflicts will not arise in ISU as it does at the Slater Institute. Even though the legal proceedings are still being looked after by the latter, the ISU members have strongly criticized the unjust policies that are incredibly xenophobic. The students and families, and organizers have petitioned against the ordered that allowed suspension of Chinese F visa and J visa holders.
Unjust policies such as this one lead to the formation of the ISU. The organization’s mission is simple- “Students are best represented by the students who are going through the same thing.” According to these students, several concerns such as the financial strain and international students not being able to continue further education have not been addressed by the administration. As a result, the students are forced to take matters into their own hands and resolve these issues.
Apart from the unjust policies, there are several drawbacks that the ISU members have to deal with. As the members cannot meet in person, it has been quite a struggle to get all the members together. Most of the international students are back in their home country with different time zones. Hence, arranging for a virtual meeting can become a challenging task for the ISU.
One of the significant concerns that these students have is that their visibility on the campus is getting affected due to them getting stuck in their home countries. As a result, their issues are not being attended to. An ISU member was worried as their inability to meet in person is being mistaken for laziness as it seems that they are not doing enough. Hence, according to the ISU members, it is difficult for the administration to take them seriously. According to the Slater International Centre director, Tana D. Ruegamer, only 1/3rd of the international students were expected to return to the universities for the fall semester.
It is difficult to come back to the university due to the current covid-19 restrictions and financial constraints. But the ISU is trying its best to put its causes forward. The members are using social media platforms and Zoom to hold events and put out their reasons in front of the whole world. They have received support from many, including the Wellesley Leftist Union (WLU). They even emailed the DHS petition to the authorities on 6th October 2020.
The ISU members want to become a force to be reckoned with in terms of the matters related to the immigrants and international student’s community. The union soon plans to launch a campaign that will look after not receiving enough financial aid from the authorities. For now, one can wait and watch to see how successful they will be with their future endeavors.