Schulman: We must be loud and clear in our support for international students


Jonathan Schulman, Op-Ed Contributor

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced Monday that international students on F-1 and M-1 visas at United States institutions that are holding online-only courses this fall will be refused entry or forced to leave the U.S.

It is unclear the precise effect that this announcement will have at Northwestern, and I have no doubt that the staff at the Office of International Student and Scholar Services is working to discuss solutions to protect international students.

However, even if the administration at NU is able to effectively navigate loopholes to leave things unchanged, this policy announcement should enrage all of us at Northwestern.

Those of us at NU who will not be affected by these rapidly changing xenophobic policies have to be angry. At the graduate level, we have to recognize that the labor of international students keeps our university running, through their classroom instruction, research, service and so much more (international students constitute about one third of our graduate student population). My own research, teaching, studying and overall graduate school experience benefits tremendously every day from my conversations with my international student colleagues.

If you continue to follow this issue, you will likely see a number of statistics detailing the massively significant positive economic impact that international students contribute to the U.S. economy. In addition to emphasizing their benefit on the national economy and domestic students, many will argue that U.S. higher education is optimized when we bring the best and brightest minds from around the world to our universities. They are, of course, not wrong, but they make a somewhat troubling type of argument. Even if the economic calculation dictated otherwise, supporting our international colleagues is the right thing to do. Our undergraduate and graduate students are not commodities; they are our friends, neighbors, classmates and scholarly community. For the Trump administration to hold them hostage in an effort to force universities to re-open in the fall is cruel. This inhumanity, however, is not just a side-effect of a strategic move to force schools to reopen; the cruelty is the point.

It is true that these restrictive, xenophobic policy announcements often fail to materialize; Lawfare Editor-in-Chief and Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution Benjamin Wittes described this trend as “malevolence tempered by incompetence.” Even if that proves to be the case once again with this recent ICE announcement, we must acknowledge the mental toll placed on our international student colleagues from the Trump administration’s policies and rhetoric, which continually denounce immigrants as threatening and inferior. We must choose to be a university that fights these policies and rhetoric at every level; there can be no gray area on where we stand.

International students cannot be a pawn for politicians who have self-serving interests in re-opening schools for in-person instruction in the fall. We are talking about the livelihoods and mental and physical health of over one million students in U.S. higher education. If we want to boast the global nature of our university, as NU often does, we must be there to loudly denounce these xenophobic policies that put our students’ lives and careers in danger for the mere sake of ideological malice.

Jonathan Schulman is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Political Science. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.