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Voices of the Global Community


Yung-Hwa Anna Chow, Global Engagement Commission Chair

AnnaChow.jpgThe economic crisis and federal budget cuts have forced many colleges and universities to increase their international student enrollment.  However, this shift in enrollment practice has caused many domestic students to protest that tax dollars are being unfairly spent on educating foreign and out of state students.  In fact, in 2011 alone, international students contributed $21.8 billion dollars to the U.S. economy, and roughly 70% of all international students’ primary funding comes from sources outside of the U.S. (Open Doors 2012a, Open Doors 2012b).  Not surprisingly, international students are actively recruited to North American universities and colleges, not only because they generate revenue in tough economic times, but because they increase diversity and cultural exposure for our domestic students.

Inaccurate assumptions, coupled with the steady increase of international enrollment all over the U.S., have resulted in a number of racial incidents targeting international students.  “Students at Ohio State University Tweet comments like ‘The [I]ndian next [to] me [at] the gym smells like a curry covered butt hole’ and ‘Every Asian that walks past us in the oval wants to eat our dog.’  A column in the student newspaper at Kansas State University argued that American tax dollars shouldn’t be spent to educate Afghan, Chinese, Iranian, Iraqi or Turkish students ‘who could, in the near future, become the enemy’”  (Redden, 2012).

A recent study by Shideh Hanassah at UCLA, in which she surveyed 640 international students, found that discrimination also extends to these students’ interactions with professors, university staff, classmates, potential employers, and the larger community.  Students’ examples of discriminatory acts include comments like: “Latinos cannot be logical or scientific.  [The professor] had little regards for different academic trainings, cultures, and ways of thinking;” “A White guy (staff) was laughing at my name and making fun of it in public;” ”I get very frustrated if a professor ignores me because my English is not as good compared to a native speaker…such times, I feel I’m stupid” (Hanassah, 2006).

University administrations across the country have proposed that we need to create safe and welcoming environments by encouraging cross-cultural interactions between domestic and international students.  Programs such as “Campus Cousins, Friendship Families, and Global Greek” (Redden, 2013) pair international students with domestic students or recent study abroad returnees to promote one-on-one interaction.  Other campuses encourage campus integration of international students by offering credited courses that act as semester-long orientations.  These courses might target transitional issues (such as housing and transportation), academic issues (such as plagiarism), and educating students about university resources.  In addition to interactions with American students, international programs might also offer opportunities to build friendship amongst international students from various countries.  Research has shown that relationships with other international students “play a critical role in staving off depression, improving academic performance, and increasing student satisfaction with their college experience” (Glass & Braskamp, 2012).

However, to complicate this issue we must recognize that international students might also bring with them a set of stereotypes that often preclude them from interacting with certain groups on campus.  When asked if a Korean international student would date someone who is African American, she responded, “No, they will hurt me because they are big and I don’t like their curly hair and big lips, it’s not my style” (Ritter, 2012).  Due to popular culture, stereotypes and racist ideologies have been spread worldwide.  In Japan, Blacks are considered “backward” and “good singers,” and “Sambo”-like images are regularly consumed (Greenwald, 2001).  In China, people with “darker skin” including Filipinos, Southeast Asians, Latinos, and Blacks, are considered “inferior” (Shanghai Star, 2003).  Bert Berry, Director of International Services at Webster University, also points out that what’s most disturbing is “the perception that the dominant white culture is inherently ‘right.’  Too often [the international] students are only interested in associating with people from their home country and U.S. whites.  They shun Blacks, Hispanics, and all other minority groups” (Althen, 2009).

What further exacerbates this issue is that some university campuses exempt international students from American history requirements and many do not require diversity courses (Ritter, 2012).  International students’ perception of race affects who they choose to interact with and the overall quality of their college experience.  This in turn affects campus climate as a whole.  To combat stereotypes harbored by international students, Gary Althen (2009) argues that we must educate international students about race.  He encourages international student offices to partner with multicultural affairs offices to create opportunities to educate students about race relations in the U.S.  ESL teachers at Central Connecticut State University use movies and short essays to illustrate and facilitate discussions about race.  Gonzaga University introduces race relations through African American history during ESL orientation.  University of Michigan offers credited courses and dialogue groups for international and domestic students on a range of topics including race, ethnicity, multiracial identity, and gender issues.  Jennifer Yim, the director of the Global Scholars Pilot Program, says “the goal of these dialogues is to bring the two student groups together in a space for understanding one another” (Althen, 2009).

As academic advisors, we can also encourage our domestic and international students to enroll in diversity courses, such as Ethnic Studies courses, where students can learn about issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality.  Students need to be able to understand cultural differences and systems of inequality within the U.S. and also in their home countries.  These courses should teach students how to critically analyze the ways in which race and privilege are communicated to us globally and we internalize these ideologies.  Perhaps the most important skill that we should promote in the discussion about race and racism is the ability to critically analyze oneself. 

We should recognize that having international students on our campus is a unique privilege.  They bring cultural diversity and perspectives from which we can all benefit.  But the issue of racism definitely reaches further than just misunderstandings between domestic and international students.  It’s something we need to actively address so that we can eventually benefit from stimulating cross-cultural interactions between domestic and international students. 

Yung-Hwa Anna Chow
General Studies and Advising Center
Washington State University


Althen, G. (2009, May and June). Educating international students about ‘race.’ International Educator, 88–93.

Glass, C. & Braskamp, L. (2012) Essay on how colleges should respond to racism against international students. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2012/10/26/essay-how-colleges-should-respond-racism-against-international-students

Greenwald, J. (2001, June 24) Japan prejudice and black sambo. Times Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,149882,00.html

Hanassah, S. (2006) Diversity, international students, and perceived discrimination: Implications for educators and counselors. Journal of Studies in International Education, 10, 157–172.

Open Doors 2012a. (2012) Economic Impact of International Students.  Retrieved from http://www.iie.org/Research-and-Publications/Open-Doors/Data/Special-Reports/Economic-Impact-of-International-Students

Open Doors 2012b. (2012) Fast Facts Open Doors 2012.  Retrieved from http://www.iie.org/Research-and-Publications/Open-Doors

Redden, E. (2012) Tensions simmer between American and international students.  Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/10/16/tensions-simmer-between-american-and-international-students

Redden, E. (2013) International educators consider the challenges in integrating students from abroad. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/03/04/international-educators-consider-challenges-integrating-students-abroad

Ritter, Z. (2012) Essay on dealing with racist ideas of international students. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2012/10/26/essay-deadling-racist-ideas-international-students

Shanghai Star. (2003) Racism in China. Retrieved from http://app1.chinadaily.com.cn/star/2003/0417/cu18-1.html

Cite this article using APA style as: Chow, Y. (2013, June). Race, racism, and international students in the United State. Academic Advising Today, 36(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]

Posted in: 2013 June 36:2


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