The University Insider is The Daily’s first faculty and staff-oriented newsletter. This weekly newsletter will give U-M faculty and staff the ability to see the most important issues on campus and in Ann Arbor — particularly those related to administrative decisions — from the perspective of an independent news organization. It will also provide a better understanding of student perspectives.
On July 14, the Trump administration announced plans to rescind the July 6 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy that stated international students attending colleges operating fully online would not be allowed to remain in the U.S.
However, some international students, like Rackham student Sharmi Sen, a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology and Graduate Student Instructor, are still wary of possible changes in the future.
“It did seem surprising that the ban was a direct attack on international students in the U.S., so I don’t know if this is over yet, but I would be cautious,” Sen said. “I would expect something so it doesn’t take me by surprise. It never ends for international students, so you just have to be careful all the time.”
Sen also spoke about how the initial ban raised concerns for her safety and education.
“My biggest concern was that India, my home country, is also experiencing a rise in cases, so if I had to leave campus, I wouldn’t necessarily be able to fly back home,” Sen said. “Logistically, it sounded like a nightmare to figure that out in the middle of a pandemic … There were just so many ‘what ifs.’”
Not only has this caused stress and uncertainty among students, but staff and GSIs tell The Daily they have been scrambling to create plans for a safe and effective semester while doing what they can to accommodate and advocate for international students.
In response to the initial announcement, Heba Gowayed, an assistant professor of sociology at Boston University, created an open letter against the student ban that received over 34,000 signatures from faculty and students around the U.S.
“What the policy does is it creates an arbitrary distinction between our international and our domestic students, saying that while our domestic students can decide how to stay safe while at the same time learn, our foreign students cannot,” Gowayed said. “One could say, they could still learn online, they could still learn wherever they are, but what that fails to recognize is that students are people who have full lives here … what does it mean to disrupt someone’s life like that?”
Gowayed said the lack of humanity and understanding regarding international students’ roles on campus outlined in the policy and the resulting rejection of the policy by instructors around the U.S. inspired her to create the petition.
“That’s why I put it out, I felt like we needed to have a unified statement as teachers, as instructors … and have a space to voice our frustrations and rejection and anger with the policy,” Gowayed said.
University of Michigan political science professor Nicholas Valentino was one of the 34,000 who signed Gowayed’s petition, further emphasizing the taxing load the policy had on students’ mental health.
“My own students have said that they’ve had the experience where they wake up and check everyday what their status is, and it’s a huge mental burden which slows them down and gets in the way of the work that they need to be doing,” Valentino said. “As far as I can tell … there is no benefit (for anyone).”
When asked about the policy, Valentino strongly opposed the inherently difficult conditions the government placed on international students.
“We can’t force our students into unsafe conditions or choose between putting them in unsafe positions or forcing them to leave the country,” Valentino said. “It’s completely unacceptable, it’s completely infuriating, it has no one’s human interest at heart.”
Valentino noted how the policy undermined the impact international students have beyond the classroom.
“There are hundreds of examples of the kind of work that needs to be done in a university (not only) for the education of the students, but also for the livelihood of the community and the continuance of the intellectual mission of the university,” Valentino said. “That does not have to happen in person in order for the value of the university experience to be very high.”
Valentino concluded by touching on how this policy was a reminder of the importance of mobilizing and voting to take action as a nation.
“This is a very specific attack on a value that we all treasure which is our diversity,” Valentino said. “When you attack people and their values … it mobilizes them. You’re mobilizing a lot of people who care about this, who can vote.”
Matt Albert, professor and chair of the department of chamber music at the University’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance, also voiced support for the petition and the value of international students on campus.
“Foreign students are so important in the rich and varied backgrounds that they bring as individuals to their colleagues' experiences,” Albert said. “By bringing their own personal lived experiences with them, it just opens up the possibility for dialogue and shared experiences for both comparing and contrasting, in the arts, for the ways people might perform and interpret something. All of those are valuable for all of our students.”
Daily Staff Reporter Sarah Zhao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.