Updated on May 23, 2018
It is no secret that 2017 has brought some anxiety to international students planning to study in the United States and for American universities. There was media speculation on some comments made by President Donald Trump about stricter visa guidelines and banner headlines on that tragic killing of an Indian engineer from Hyderabad in Kansas, together with a nagging sense among foreign media of a growing intolerance in the United States. All this snowballed into an imaginary scenario in which international students began feeling they may not be welcome or be safe on American campuses.
Not surprisingly, this left students who have been offered admission in American universities quite confused about issues of safety, H1B visas, OPT..
I want to focus on the safety aspect here. American university leaders have been proactively demonstrating and showcasing their safety provisions to assure international students: “We want you here, we value you, you enhance our experience, we welcome you….and once you are here, your safety is our concern as much as it is yours.” The result is that social media campaigns with ‘#youarewelcomehere’ are conveying a strong message: that the U.S. is warmly welcoming international students.
Welcoming International Students:
As the Executive Chair for the Commission on International Initiatives at the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU), a group of 236 world-class research universities, I would like to reiterate APLU’s message of inclusion: “Our nation must be careful to send the right messages about our values or risk endangering much of what makes this country so special. Every president’s most solemn responsibility is to protect the American people, but the United States -- for its own future -- can and must remain welcoming to those who will strengthen our nation while pursuing their dreams of a better life.”
American universities believe this with sincerity and passion – and this attitude is seen in the students too, both domestic and international. They have demonstrated this in many ways after the Kansas killing. Presidents of several universities sent out letters to current and prospective students; there were spontaneous student protests against racism. Make no mistake, the leading U.S. universities value geographic and ethnic diversity and promote the consequent diversity of thought found among their innovative scholars and students.
During a recent social gathering with the international community at my University (USF – University of South Florida), I spoke with several of our students who expressed gratitude to our university for reaching out to them and sharing their concern. The students forwarded some of the messages to their parents to assure them they were in a safe and caring environment. These types of conversations are occurring at every American university with a large population of international students. Those students broaden our academic communities and U.S. students most assuredly learn from them as much as they learn from us. Everyday at the University of South Florida I see that “them” and “us” becomes a community of “we” and my colleagues at APLU inform me this is their experience too.
Safety measures on an American campus:
We realize that however much a campus may be a safe haven, in today’s world extra precautions are needed – and the universities are embracing them. As an example of what universities are doing, I am listing below just some steps taken by USF, which has a 1300-acre campus (which can mean a long walk for students going from one building to another): our own certified police force; 90 Blue Light Emergency Phones (which are illuminated at night) placed strategically throughout the campus and directly connected to the police department; a SAFE Team that provides students with free and safe travel on the campus from 6:30pm to 2:00am; a TapRide app that allows students to have an escort accompany them to their destination by foot or golf cart, or wait with them until their ride arrives after a late night of studying in class or the library; additional residential housing so that more students can stay on campus; affiliated privately owned housing properties around the campus that are approved by the university, work within our guidelines of safety and are on the route of USF’s Bull Runner buses; a swipe card to enter the residential housing on campus and a 24-hour front desk manager for each housing complex; trained nurses, with a doctor on-call, at all times of the day and night at the USF Student Health Services; and high quality, culturally competent counseling. Leading American universities have these or similar safety features.
Your safety is in your hands:
In return for our commitment to student safety, we ask all our students (both U.S. and international) to be responsible citizens of our university. Never suspend your common sense! I ask students to consider that if you would not go out alone late at night in your hometown, why would you in a foreign city? Whether you are from Hyderabad or Houston, Boston or Bangalore, the standards for your safety will remain in your hands.
There are other tips, which would be applicable all over the world, especially when out for an evening of fun: don’t accept rides from casual acquaintances or strangers; on public transport, change your seat if someone is making you feel uncomfortable – trust your instincts over political correctness in such situations; if you are walking back alone at night, don’t – pair up or go out in a group and leave with the same group; let your friends or family know your plans; don’t accept substances or drinks (even a coffee) from people you don’t know; protest loudly and vocally at the first sign of someone harassing you so that you attract attention and scare off the offender..
Be aware of your surroundings on and off campus. At the University, learn where the security personnel and features are located and how to use them; listen carefully when during orientation you are advised what to do in an emergency; don’t feel hesitant to ask what you don’t understand. Be assured that any concern of yours, however minor it may seem, will be taken seriously.
Connect with EducationUSA:
Acquainting yourself with the new academic culture, life style and making new friends in a new culture could be challenging. Reach out to EducationUSA India, a part of the U.S. Department of State network of over 400 international student advising centers in more than 170 countries. The network promotes U.S. higher education to students around the world by offering accurate, comprehensive, and current information on study at accredited postsecondary institutions in the United States.
EducationUSA’s pre departure orientation and visa sessions at 7 centers across 7 cities (USIEF: Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, New Delhi; Yashna Trust: Bangalore and IAES: Ahmedabad) will help you better as you embark on your journey to study in the U.S. You can reach out to them at their toll free number 1800-103-1231. Or find the location closest to you on https://educationusa.state.gov/ .
If you come to the United States we will expect you to help us help you stay safe! In return, we will ensure you can reach your dreams and achieve your goals. From the USF fraternity I would like to share the message, you are welcome here.
Watch this special video put together by University of South Florida: https://youtu.be/RPnyt693D5I
By Roger Brindley
Vice President, University of South Florida System
STUDY ABROAD GUIDE