Homeland Security ruling, public education and international students
The recent ruling threatens access to higher education for international students. University Diversity and Inclusion Officer Eloisa Gordon-Mora addresses the implications.
Our University of Nevada, Reno’s Mission clearly states: “Inspired by its land-grant foundation, the University of Nevada, Reno provides outstanding learning, discovery, and engagement programs that serve the economic, social, environmental and cultural needs of the citizens of Nevada, the nation, and the world. The University recognizes and embraces the critical importance of diversity in preparing students for global citizenship and is committed to a culture of excellence, inclusion, and accessibility.”
Consequently, it was with grave concern and apprehension that we reviewed the Monday’s U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s ruling excluding international students from being able to return or initiate their higher-education program of studies in universities with an online-only instruction format for the Fall. Even though our University announced that it will follow a HyFlex/hybrid model (in-person and online) allowing international students to take in-person courses and up to 3-credits of online offerings, it is important to address the implications of this ruling, in order to continue to fulfill the aforementioned mission-inscribed goals of global citizenship, inclusion and accessibility.
As of this ruling, a valued and integral sector of our country’s student community is being formally limited in their capacity to fulfill higher-education goals. At a time of extreme overall anxiety and genuine insecurity stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic – where physical, emotional, financial, familiar and community well-being have dramatically impacted all, but particularly underrepresented groups including, but not limited to, communities of color, indigent populations, immigrants, and international groups – the ruling only serves to add to further insecurity, displacement and loss for all.
Our international students, or more on point, our international community, which includes students, faculty and staff, have been and continue being crucial for our intellectual, cultural and overall university endeavors. If we can reasonably agree that national borders are illusory in many respects—from the real focus of most economic transactions, to environmental impacts, to COVID-19, precisely—how can we even pretend to exclude, or at best, limit the participation of such crucial community members, as our international colleagues and students?
This ruling is yet another example of the need to reflect on our own American history and its dimensions of colonization, isolationism, intolerance, racism and xenophobia, as a way to learn how we can become better as a nation. Even after the 1965 Immigration Act, intolerance of immigrants has continued throughout the decades in many legally and/or culturally sanctioned forms. Historically—whether Irish Catholic, Southern European, Eastern European, Caribbean/Latin American, Asian, Jew, Muslim and on and on—immigrants have been attacked for certain fundamental reason: for being poor, for their language, religion, culture, or overall, for being considered “non-white”.
At a time when most of us are struggling to survive, rather than excelling in our personal, professional and community dimensions, we should be aiming to facilitate, rather than limit the possibilities for intellectual growth, creativity and human development in our University and throughout our country. If there is one fundamental lesson that we should learn from this unprecedented global pandemic that knows no borders is how interconnected and interdependent we all are as humans.
Now that uncertainty and fear are unfortunate shared experiences, we should come together through a fuller commitment to newer and more collaborative work, including joining the increasing number of U.S. universities and higher-education advocacy organizations that are questioning this ruling. And this, in support of diversity, equity and inclusion: ultimately, the foundations of a true democracy.