The Fries Center for Global Studies (FCGS) is almost three years old, and its inaugural director, Antonio Gonzalez, is nearing the end of his term. I will be taking the reins in July and write with my thoughts about the future of the FCGS in the context of the broader conversation going on right now about international students at Wesleyan.
The mission of the FCGS is to enhance everything we do at Wesleyan by making the borders of our campus more porous to people, languages, cultures, art, ideas, issues, and research from around the world. You can think about this as supporting three different kinds of movement: outbound (for example, study abroad or international fellowships); inbound (for example, exchange students or visiting scholars coming here); and interactions on campus. The FCGS’s role with respect to international students is primarily in the third of these areas.
As I understand it, international students at Wesleyan sometimes need, to varying degrees, several kinds of support: logistical (such as visas), academic (such as writing), general-purpose advising, and support for activities. These needs are not unique to international students, but some challenges are at least more frequent and distinctive. Until now, the providers of most of this support have been Alice Hadler and Janice Watson. In the last couple years, Kia Lor (Assistant Director of Language and Intercultural Learning in the FCGS) has started to play a role in helping to organize activities with and for international students, and several international students serve on the FCGS’s Global Affairs Board. But the lion’s share of work has been in the hands of Alice and Janice.
Recognizing that the community of international students on campus has grown and diversified, the administration is now moving forward with plans to increase the number of people and units that have staff dedicated to working with international students. These changes also take into account the fact that we have new or significantly enhanced units whose missions need to be updated to take more central account of the international diversity of our student body. So instead of all the responsibility resting on the shoulders of Alice and Janice, the new model envisions two staff in Student Services with primary responsibility for logistical and general-purpose-advising support; one full-time position in the Writing Center who will both teach and organize workshops and other activities; and two people in the FCGS with major responsibility for programming related to international students: Kia and Alice, who is moving into the FCGS as Senior Associate Director for a two-year term.
I have worked closely with Alice in thinking through the nature of her new position within the FCGS, and let me end with two things I have learned from talking with her. One is that it is impossible to strictly distinguish advising from teaching from helping students with extra-curricular activities. Good ideas for an activity emerge during class discussions, and advising blends into academic help and back again. The lesson I take from this is not that it’s best to have one person trying to do everything, but instead that all the people who will be working with international students on campus must also work with one another: they have to communicate well and support each other. We are already working to make sure this will be true.
Second, talking with Alice has reinforced for me something that I already knew: namely, that international students have a great deal to contribute to the Wesleyan community. The more we live and grow and are challenged together, respecting our differences but all of us simultaneously being open to learning from one another, the better off we will be. A major goal of the FCGS is precisely to help make this happen.
Steven Angle is the Mansfield Freeman Professor of East Asian Studies and a Professor of Philosophy.