International students are welcome and safe at American universities, say educational experts who specialize in the foreign student population at their schools.
Speaking at a Voice of America international student town hall, the experts from a wide range of colleges said international students add value to American society through a collegiate soft diplomacy.
“I truly believe that international students bring such value and enrichment to this country and to our institutions,” said Sam Brown, director of international scholars and services at Brigham Young University. “While there might be some questions and some misunderstandings, and people that don’t quite understand what culture you come from and, perhaps, a religious background, you have an opportunity to share what that is.”
Brown and six other educators appeared at VOA’s “Education Destination: USA,” a 90-minute broadcast and livestream about the challenges and hurdles of coming to the U.S. to participate in higher education.
VOA receives questions every day about receiving an education in the U.S. from its weekly audience of 236 million listeners and viewers. That point was punctuated by VOA Director Amanda Bennett, who opened the program.
“We’ve found that there are few topics that are more interesting to our audience — particularly our younger audience — than education in the United States,” said Bennett, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist.
The intent of the international student town hall, she said, was to connect people from around the world with a panel of experts in higher education through digital platforms and channels, such as Facebook Live and satellite.
Helping people connect
“This is just the first in what we expect will be many, many, many such events as this is where we deal with important questions,” Bennett said, “and help people around the world connect with people here to discuss really important issues.”
Questions included one from Iran, where a student asked if he would be allowed to study in the U.S., given immigration hurdles. President Donald Trump issued a revised executive order that banned travelers from six Muslim-majority countries, but federal courts have prevented the ban from being enforced.
A Chinese student in the live audience asked the panel what universities were doing about the travel ban and xenophobia.
The upper levels of university administrations need and want to maintain “a welcoming environment,” said James Dorsett, director of international students and scholars at Michigan State University in Lansing. “It’s the responsibility of the whole institution as a learning institution to be a welcoming and supporting place for all students.”
Dorsett pointed to the “You are welcome here” video campaign that many U.S. schools participated in to promote inclusion for international students who might have felt fearful when the executive order was announced.
“Our campus and most campuses provide a prayer room and places where students of different faiths can go and participate in their religion,” Brown told a student from Indonesia who asked if she would be allowed to wear hijab, or a head covering, while in the U.S. “I think you’ll find that across the board in most institutions.”
Other panelists at the town hall included Paul T. White, assistant dean for admissions at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine; Susan Zuffante Pabon, director of the Slater International Center at Wellesley College; Bianca Schonfeld, manager for the Office of International Student Services and Study Abroad at Houston Community College; Raj Bhargava, entrepreneur and teacher of Stanford University pre-collegiate courses; and Doug Shaw, senior associate provost for International Strategy at the George Washington University and assistant professor of International Affairs.