I am writing this in response, partly to questions and concerns of my fellow international students. I had already intended to write a post about recent changes in the local and global climate. Most importantly, if I do not say something, I feel I am also part of the problem. Here, I will share some information from recent meetings on campus, some history of the situation, personal impacts to me and members of my communities and what you can do to help.
Firstly, executive orders are out of our control. US citizens can barely do anything about them immediately or in the short term. Marginalized citizens have less perceived power and international scholars, none. The thing about Visas is, they get you into the country, allow you to cross a border. Other laws, policies, mechanisms etc. determine your length of stay and legal status after you arrive. Policy, culture, climate and INDIVIDUAL perceptions and actions affect how you are treated while you stay here. Ultimately, as an international scholar, your behavior and appearance also impact how you are perceived or treated, whether you choose them or not. Your mental health along with all the other aspects of life in academia affect how safe, welcome and successful you can be in the current climate, nationally, within the university or your department.
Since I have been here, I have experienced racism and prejudice directed toward myself and others. In particular, antisemitic, racist, queer-phobic graffiti; published letters and displays targeting religious groups, minorities and international students; and acts of direct interpersonal aggression and violence. Most at the University believe “This is a safe place. Miamians are mostly educated, liberal and kind.” (honestly, many international students don’t really know what liberal means or what bearing that has). In the past, the response to these acts and significant impacts to the international student and scholar communities on campus and across the USA have been slow… or absent.
Today, there are students, faculty and staff on campus who have been here for a long time, that are fearful for their futures. Some have risked their lives to come here. Some risk the lives of their families and friends by being here if a photo of them shows up on Facebook. Some have lost their life savings due to international policies they cannot control. Some no longer have homes to go to.
Publicly funded universities cannot make statements that impact a public office (or so I am told). Ostensibly, because this could impact their funding eligibility. This past weekend, we saw how an executive order can impact even more than that. The flow of international funds and expertise, diversity of thought and the health of a community.
In your academic department, how many of the international students or faculty have you ever seen, spoken to, had a meal with? my guess is very few.
Here are a few things you can do.
1: Ask how we are doing and listen, without justifying the actions, without telling us about the checks and balances in your government, without assuring us that on average people are good.
2: Make yourself an advocate. Learn the objective, truth. How many international scholars are in your department. where are they from, how much do they contribute to your department, the university, America. Learn the legal limitations in your professional capacity at the university and where the boundary between free speech and threats are maybe at the Free Speech forum tonight
3: Be vocal in your support. We cannot know where your heart lies. As we hear so much negativity toward people like us and see you say nothing, it is honestly safer to assume that you are not an ally. So if you are an ally, if you do respect and appreciate our personhood, make yourself known.
4: If you are the head of a department or organization, issue a statement. Let us know that you respect and appreciate the diversity we bring to your community and that your department or offices are safe places to be free from harassment or to report issues. No, University Communications’ blanket, lukewarm statement does not cover you as an individual or a community within Miami. Kudos to President Crawford and Renate for their visible and vocal support of our community, but yes, we need more.
Love and Honor,