Fitts reassures international students of future at Tulane

Gabby Abrams, News Editor

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Uncertainty, anxiety and stress are common threads underscoring the experiences of over 1 million international college students, including Tulane University students, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Since mid-March and the dedensification of the university, Tulane’s international students have faced pressures including limited flights to their home countries, travel bans and economic hardships resulting from the devastating impact of the pandemic on the worldwide economy.

On Monday, July 6, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced another obstacle that international students in the U.S. will be forced to grapple with. This directive by the Trump administration would nullify the visas of international students enrolled in entirely online courses at U.S. universities, potentially resulting in deportations.

In response to this news, Tulane’s President Mike Fitts sent an email to the Tulane community on Wednesday, July 8, detailing his “commitment to the protection of our international students.”

In the email, Fitts explained that since Tulane will be holding both in-person and online courses beginning Aug. 19, international students should remain eligible to attend classes on campus. He proceeded to enumerate Tulane’s gratitude for the influence that international students have on university’s community, writing that “the expertise, insights, perspectives and experiences of international students are critical to the mission of a major research university such as Tulane.”

Fitts’ letter does not, however, include any condemnation of the actions that ICE is taking or of the country’s current administration.

Fitts’ letter was released after a July 7 petition created by recent Tulane graduate Kelly Colligan, titled “Dear Tulane, stop ICE from deporting your students on college visas.” Colligan called on the university to do everything in its power to protect international students from deportation amongst uncertainties surrounding the fall semester. The change.org petition has amassed nearly a thousand signatures since its creation.

Tulane’s response to this dilemma is especially pertinent considering that the Class of 2024 is the most globally diverse group of students in the school’s history. Fitts’ words serve as a stress reliever for 160 international first-year students from 20 different countries, relying on F-1 visas to remain on campus in the fall.

The Office of Study Abroad and Office of International Students and Scholars also remain committed to supporting the university’s international students. The two offices are working to provide assistance with meeting federal requirements for F-1 visas by providing educational opportunities with Study Away programs. Furthermore, undergraduate students in mainland China are able to enroll into the Tulane Global Shanghai program through the university’s partnership with the Council on International Educational Exchange.

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The Newcomb-Tulane College Office of Study Abroad (OSA) is aware of Monday’s decision by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security related to online courses permitted by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) for the Fall 2020 semester. We know this news will prove concerning, particularly to the international students who represent an integral part of the Tulane community. In an effort to allow students to meet federal requirements for maintaining F-1 visas, OSA has been working in conjunction with the Office of International Students and Scholars to provide impacted undergraduate students with hybrid learning opportunities through Study Away programs. Additionally, undergraduate students based in mainland China have been given the option to enroll in hybrid learning at the newly established Tulane Global Shanghai program made possible through our partnership with the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE). As we work to assist international students in navigating these challenges, it is important to remember that regardless of the edicts which may seek to divide us, intercultural exchange will always be essential to institutions of higher education striving to foster communities based on mutual understanding and committed to academic excellence. The Center for Global Education exists to promote the life-changing experience of international education and exchange for students, faculty, staff, and visitors. As always, OSA is here to support the international students and scholars who have consistently made indelible academic and personal contributions to Tulane University and, by extension, the city of New Orleans. For questions regarding the Tulane Global Shanghai program, please contact [email protected] tulane.edu For questions regarding Study Away opportunities, please contact [email protected] tulane.edu For questions or concerns related to the SEVP guidance or other immigration matters, please contact [email protected] tulane.edu

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Other institutions of higher education have also declared their support of international students through various approaches. Notably, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute for Technology announced Wednesday their lawsuit  against the Trump administration for their recent directive. Northeastern University announced Wednesday afternoon that they will be joining the lawsuit and Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Duke University, University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University, among other schools, also committed to writing amicus briefs in support of the suit.

Students at the University of California, Berkeley are taking a creative approach to aiding fellow international students amidst ICE’s announcement. Their plan, devised shortly after the announcement on Monday and shared widely over social media, would involve creating a one credit, student-run, in-person course for international students that require a physical course to maintain their visa. Members of various other universities have followed suit in attempts to create one credit in-person courses and protect international students.

Fitts’ concluded his Wednesday letter with a note on Tulane’s motto. “‘Not for one’s self, but for one’s own’ is a motto that begins at home and stretches around the globe  wherever Tulanians live,” Fitts wrote.