A plea for international students

By ARTHUR MARTINS, MASUD TYREE LEWIS, KELLY ZHOU, CLAIRE MOY, MONIQUE SANTOSO, HUSSAM ALZUBAIDY, and ARIANA POPA

The following letter was sent via email to members of the Senior Leadership Group (SLG) on Wednesday, March 11. A list of SLG members is available here. The list was also shared with the college’s commons deans, heads and coordinators, whose names can be found here, as well as the Student Activities Office and the Office of International Student and Scholar Services.

Parts of this letter have been lightly edited to comply with The Campus’ style guidelines.

Dear President Patton, Dean Taylor, Provost Cason, members of the SLG, and commons deans,

We are afraid.

As the International Students’ Organization Executive Board, we are distressed about the impact the administration’s decision to evacuate campus will have on the international student population. Although we come from over 74 countries and territories and distinct cultural backgrounds, the recent developments have united the international student community through the fear that we will be disproportionately affected if requested to leave Middlebury.

First, we want to assure you that we take your requests to find alternatives to staying on campus seriously. We acknowledge the reasons motivating the college’s decision, and we are doing everything in our personal capacities to come up with reasonable plans. 

However, the decision to evacuate Middlebury poses an inequitable and disproportionate burden on us. While the college has been supportive in offering financial assistance to traveling, there are other serious concerns about our living conditions beyond Middlebury. For many of us, Middlebury is a sanctuary and the most reliable provider of housing, dining and resources that ensures our wellbeing. In addition to our support networks being hundreds to thousands of miles away, they are not all able to accomodate us at this point. Some of us do not have homes to go back to, and many others depend on their incomes from Middlebury to support their families. 

Sending us to other students’ homes instead of our own does not address the core of the problem. Instead, it transfers the college’s responsibility to look after us to third parties. It is unfair to shift your commitment to house, feed, and support us onto the families of our friends and other members of the community. It is unreasonable for the college to impose on them the financial burden of indefinitely — or even temporarily — supporting and sustaining us. If financial support is being made available for traveling, the question remains whether international students will be awarded a living allowance for the periods during which they are asked to be removed from campus. We urge you to consider how the college has brought many of us here on scholarships precisely because of our considerable needs and disadvantages. Our situation requires special consideration.

While we acknowledge that much of what is happening is beyond the college’s control, we urge you to consider how domestic students are generally not similarly affected by being sent home as we are. We feel wary of making decisions on returning home or committing to stay in the United States when little is known on how travel restrictions will evolve over the coming weeks. We look to the administration for assurances that there are plans in place to assist the relocation of international students from their domestic hosts should the school decide not to continue the semester, and to support their decision to return from abroad when invited back.

Additionally, whereas the CDC has not issued domestic travel restrictions, travelling internationally poses a higher risk to our own health and to the health of those around us. In requiring that we leave campus and financing our travels abroad, the college exposes us to contagion. Beyond our personal health, there are concerns that, due to being potentially exposed to the virus during high-risk travel, international students would not be as easily reintegrated to the college community. Again, we urge you to consider that the decision to evacuate us has severe implications that may not be present for other people requesting to stay.

We request that you situate your reviews on stay approvals around the pressing needs of international students. We are not residents of this country, we do not have far-reaching access to support networks here and we do not have assurances of being able to come back should things deteriorate. 

This is an unprecedented situation and we call on you to consider our cases in a caring and understanding manner. Some of us have already been denied stay on campus and many of us are frightened by the prospect of having to scramble for alternatives as the college turns us away. We urge you to be lenient and considerate as you review our applications and work thoroughly with us before requesting our departure. We call Middlebury home, and we are confident you will not overlook our plight in these trying times.

We call on you to:

  • Compensate for the financial burden of leaving campus by covering not only travel expenses, but considering living allowances for the duration of leave, particularly for students who have exceptional financial needs;
  • Accommodate students who are not able to return to their home countries and those who would not be able to reenter the United States due to travel bans or visa status concerns;
  • Acknowledge the unfairness of transferring the college’s responsibility to provide housing, dining and resources to international students onto other students’ friends, families, and communities;
  • Seriously evaluate the health and contagion risks posed by requesting international students travel through long distances and major transportation hubs to and from home;
  • Recognize that a lack and distance of communication — though not the intention — breeds an environment of anxiety and fear where students are panicking because they feel unsupported and lost;
  • Understand that Middlebury College is a sanctuary for many international students who cannot return to unstable or hostile conditions in their home communities.

Signed,

The ISO Executive Board

Arthur Martins ‘22.5, Masud Tyree Lewis ’22, Kelly Zhou ’22, Claire Moy  ’22, Monique Santoso ’21, Husam AlZubaidy ’23 and Ariana Popa ’22