In an open meeting with University President Michael Roth ’78, Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Joyce Jacobsen, and Vice President for Student Affairs Mike Whaley on Monday, April 30, international students and allies addressed concerns regarding the restructuring process, International Student Orientation (ISO), and various additional issues of accessibility and equity in the rapidly growing international student community. This meeting was organized in response to the University’s plans to expand and reorganize the academic and administrative resources on campus for international students.
At the meeting, members of the international student community advocated for a stronger dialogue with the administration and for the retention some of the resources already in place, namely those provided by Associate Dean for International Student Affairs Alice Hadler. Hadler was not present at the meeting.
Upon hearing of plans to restructure support systems for international students at the University, students and alumni alike organized on the behalf of Hadler, whose role in the new setup was initially unclear. In addition to her administrative role on campus, Hadler also interacts with international students academically as an Adjunct Instructor in English, Co-Coordinator of African Studies, and Coordinator of the Writing Program Language Services for Non-Native Speakers. Nearly every student who spoke at the meeting spoke of the support they have received from Hadler, academically and personally, at the University.
Shizuha Hatori ’18, one of the principal organizers of the meeting, emphasized students’ particular affinity for Hadler, adding to the chorus of voices stating that class deans and departmental advisors are not always considered a primary resource among international students.
“I think Alice Hadler…over the past 20 or 30 years earned a lot of trust, and I think that’s why everybody, every single international student here sitting in this classroom, is going to talk to Alice Hadler as opposed to their advisers,” Hatori said.
While the University has confirmed that Hadler will retain her position for two more years before retiring, members of the international community saw an opportunity to voice concerns about the consideration of international students by the University. Hatori saw the scheduled time with administrators as a way to spark a more consistent conversation and increase their representation in University decisions regarding international student affairs.
“We were first planning this meeting so that we can change their minds [about Hadler], but they changed their minds before we started this meeting, so we just turned this meeting…hoping that it could get the momentum going so we could talk about international student issues just in general,” Hatori said.
The meeting followed a loose format, where all concerned students had the opportunity to address representatives of the administration directly. In response to the first question of the evening, Whaley outlined the new plan intended to expand campus resources for international students. It came about, initially, because of a near-twofold increase in international students throughout the past decade, and with it the growing responsibilities of Professor Hadler and Janice Watson, Coordinator of International Student Services. Additionally, the recent expansion of the Fries Center for Global Studies increases the University’s capacity to serve its international student population, as well as all students interested in working and studying abroad.
“And so with all of these things that have increased what Joyce and I really wanted to do is that we wanted to take what essentially is Professor Hadler’s position and instead of having three quarters of her in Academic Affairs and one quarter of her in Student Affairs, we wanted to create two new full-time positions, one in Academic Affairs and one in Student Affairs, so that we have essentially more capacity or more bandwidth to meet the needs of international students,” Whaley said.
The University will hire a new full-time administrator to assume many of Hadler’s duties as dean. This new hire will move with Watson to the newly created Resource Center. There is both the space to house an expanded staff dedicated to international students and a preexisting focus on the needs of international students within the center, directed by Demetrius Colvin.
Additionally, the University’s newly expanded Shapiro Center for Writing has hired a new professor of the practice with degrees in teaching English as a second language and applied linguistics. Jacobsen outlined the new academic supports that will be available beginning this summer, maintaining that Hadler will still be teaching at the University and will remain involved with programming for international students.
“And then the final part of this [restructuring plan] was that we’ve also been building up the [Shapiro Center for Writing], as you probably all have seen, as we’ve fitted out a new building for it,” Jacobsen said. “So then part of this plan was to hire a full-time person who will also be teaching more courses in this area. Not even just coursework, but I think there are a lot of places where somebody with training as [Hadler] herself has in ESL instruction and applied linguistics could be of help to many students who maybe don’t want to take a full class in this area but would like some help with their writing.”
In addition to specific concerns regarding the restructuring of services for international students, meeting attendees also addressed inequities that affect their lives at the University. Because, often, international students do not have family nearby, they do not have as much support during emergency situations. One student shared that when he was placed in the hospital—and involuntarily on medical leave by the University—he did not have the ability to call his family to pick him up from the hospital. Because he was told that he must be released into the care of a family member, he was nearly hopeless. Fortunately, a family member on business in the United States was able to travel to Connecticut, but he felt that the general conditions for international students, especially where health is involved, can be especially dire.
In response, the administrators in the room apologized to the student for his personal experiences and expressed hope that this was not the norm. Often, they noted, members of the University staff will accompany international students home—as well as low-income, first-generation students—if they are required to leave the University.
Students also raised concerns regarding acclimation to campus for new international students. Many suggestions were made for the improvement of International Student Orientation, which takes place each year before the arrival of other incoming students.
In particular, it was noted that students did not have any help moving into the dorms, whereas all domestic students are afforded help by athletes, orientation, and Residential Life staff, in addition to any family members that may accompany them to the University.
Aiti Rai ’20 was the first to make note of this inequity.
“They usually don’t have anybody to help them to move in,” Rai said. “I think that they are the ones who need the most help. And then for the other students, it’s true that there’s always someone to help them to move in.”
In addition to suggesting that Residential Life staff receive further training on how to increase their sensitivity toward international students, Beatrix Herriott O’Gorman ’19 pointed out how this lack of support given to students arriving to campus later can increase the divide between international students and their domestic peers.
“I think ISO is a huge area that needs to be addressed,” she said. “And I do think…that you send a particular message when all of the athletes and students on campus who are training for Residential Life and whatever help domestic students move in, and there’s really no support or care for international students who arrive on campus a few days earlier for their orientation.”
In response, Roth acknowledged a lack of prior consideration of this fact and agreed that change is warranted.
“We do try to have extra support for international students who come earlier, but you’re quite right, and it’s so obvious, but I have to say I’ve never thought about it before, that the athletes aren’t here yet to help the international students move in in the same way,” Roth said. “So figuring out how I can be, other people can be, helpful to people as they’re moving in, in addition to having a set up for welcoming, and other kinds of support, and we can set up ideas for how we can make that program, your entry into sometimes the United States and to Wesleyan, how we can make that smoother, more welcoming, more hospitable.”
Before the end of the semester, members of the administration aim to hold a dinner with representatives from the international student community to increase the number of voices in the expansive restructuring process. Justin Liew ’18 affirmed this need for increased participation and advocated for the development of better, more official communication channels between the administration and the University’s international student community.
“So I think it looks like Wesleyan is finally making an expansion into the services for international students, because you are realizing that we’re a larger community now,” Liew said. “I think that the thing that most of us were not happy about was that we were not consulted on what these expansions would entail and additionally Alice Hadler, who is someone a lot of us trust very much, didn’t seem to be valued…. So since we are expanding pretty aggressively, probably in the next few years, services for international students, we probably should have some kind of structure where you can get all the voices of the international students heard before these decisions are made.”
Even after the meeting officially ended, questions remained over representation of international student in the development of these new administrative and academic structures.
“Yes, restructuring is amazing, but some students find it problematic because there is no clear answer to why international student affairs needs to go into the Resource Center, which is all about American identity politics,” Hatori said. “Yes, it’s going to be a great collaboration, but at the same time, we didn’t really hear the ‘why.’ So there’s a lot of questions, a lot of concerns, and everyone is pretty upset that they just did things everything without consulting with everybody.”
Molly Schiff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org