“Will I be safe in America?” “Am I welcome?” “Is the U.S. my best option?”
These are the unsettling questions we in college admissions now often hear from prospective international students. Concerns over the political climate and uncertain immigration policies have heightened anxieties among foreign students and their families – and chilled a decade-long growth in international student enrollment.
For years, there was no question of why or if foreign students would want to come here to study, only how. Discussions in admissions circles centered largely on how to best attract the many talented students from overseas who were eager to study in our country. But in an age of “America First,” U.S. colleges need to look beyond merely recruiting international students and consider the strategic support we must offer them once they arrive. How can we ensure they feel welcome and safe and have every opportunity to flourish intellectually, socially and emotionally?
My own experiences as an international student help me understand this issue in a very personal way. When I came to this country from India at the age of 18, I had to learn so many things from scratch. It was a time of excitement but also of extreme homesickness, jarring dislocation and doubt. But living in a nation built upon hundreds of years of immigration, from every corner of the world, I came to see that I was just one of many who came here in search of a better life and found friendship, support and a new home. How sad it makes me to see students once willing to take the brave step of leaving their homes and families behind to come to the U.S. now reconsider if this is a place where they will be wanted, valued or even safe.
How we support our international students in a climate that often appears hostile to “outsiders” will be a major topic of conversation July 10-13 as Tulane University and its neighbor, Loyola University, host the International Association for College Admission Counseling (IACAC) conference, the largest such gathering in the world.
Despite the harsh rhetoric emanating from Washington, I still believe in the America I found when I arrived here 18 years ago. And I believe most Americans still want our country to be one that welcomes those who want to learn, discover and contribute their very best to our nation. This defining American instinct becomes even stronger when one considers the economic necessity of understanding other cultures and peoples in our now interlocked world.
By welcoming and supporting international students, universities can once again play a vital role in shaping our society by overcoming the darker promptings of nativist rhetoric to rediscover America’s ideal as a nation of immigrants and the world’s largest and most successful melting pot. Doing so will not be easy, but universities have a mission, an obligation and an urgent opportunity to lead the way.
Satyajit Dattagupta is vice president for enrollment management and dean of undergraduate admission at Tulane University, which will co-host the International Association for College Admission Counseling (IACAC) conference in July 2018.