Let the Voices Extend: A Personal Reflection on Institutional Inequality at Reed as an International Student

A protest against racism was going on. Students were making noises. Our voices need to be heard, so that actual anti-racism actions can be taken. We demand and deserve no tolerance for hate speech. But beyond introducing no leniency on any speaker of racist speech, what are the long-term actions we want, exactly? When we, students, say “we”, who exactly does this “we” refer to?

Ideally, every student at Reed should be able to see themselves in this “we”. Only in this way can more students truly understand and believe that anti-racist practices and any other practices aiming to deal with inequality on campus matter to everyone at this school. In this case, the recent walkouts not only manifested the general anti-racism voices of the Reed student body, but also reflected that the ideal described above is far from being achieved yet: little involvement of international students in these walkouts made visible a blindspot regarding this specific group of minorities at Reed. It seems easy to shake off the name of being unconcerned in pursuit for justice. It seems that we could do so simply by getting our butts off the chairs, joining the walkouts, while merely sacrificing some time for schoolwork like anybody else. It seems that we could just do this, because us, students, are supportive of each other, and not only would there be no one judging us for shouting out loud as minorities, but everyone would even celebrate it with us. Yet this is not the case for international students in reality. Although most of the international students have always realized that practices aiming to eliminate inequality on campus are directly relevant to minorities, few have the motivation to actually involve themselves in these practices. If it is not that we are unconcerned, then what is stopping international students from standing up and speaking for the assertions we truly agree with and care about? 

It is the insecurity we face every day. We are afraid that if we participate in the walkouts, any photos taken by the journalists will be used to conduct cyber manhunts and thus affect our visa statuses in an unwanted way. We are afraid that we would not help with these practices as expected due to language and cultural barriers even if we participate in them. We do not have the subjective initiatives to believe that these practices should even involve and influence us, despite realizing that they aspire to make us all live in a better environment. Now here we see what these walkouts mean to us: it not only allows students to speak up for anti-racism but also provide international students with a chance to realize their difficulties regarding our immigration status. We say that the system is flawed, and now we become aware that one of the flaws is certainly about international students—— we are always facing a significant lack of resources and the institutional inequality that few have examined before.

There is widespread unawareness among faculties and students regarding the difficulties international students undergo due to their cultural backgrounds and immigration status. As a result of such unawareness, there is a lack of resources available on campus to assist the international students in face of the prominent cultural gap, sometimes even the language barrier first-year international students confront after their arrival on campus. Two major aspects ought to be addressed to provide a better educational experience for newly arrived international students at Reed: academic resources and job-oriented resources. For academic resources, one of the most crucial aspects is the language barrier international students face when transitioning into a college in a foreign country. To illustrate, the course design of Humanities 110, aims to ‘serve as the college’s foundational writing course and introduce students to the skills and habits of mind necessary for academic inquiry in their future work at Reed’, as quoted from the description page. However, in reality, the class ignores the difficulties international students face when overloaded with such expectations of being able to receive and express their ideas and then build on such skills smoothly in a completely foreign environment, sometimes for the first time in their life depending on their educational backgrounds, which is completely overlooked. Moreover, due to the compulsory nature of the course, it often leads to a feeling of defeat and even fear of attending the conference. An outside example of addressing such a language barrier is a first-year program for international students at Bryn Mawr College, instead of treating everyone equally as if they are at the same level of English proficiency, Bryn Mawr College recognizes that barrier, and provides a first-year language program to assist international students during their transition into the American academic culture. For career-oriented resources, there is a more obvious divide due to the lack of attention on the institutional level. In one of the previous Quest articles addressing one specific resource inequality, International Students Want Legal Work: Few Avenues Available describes the dire situation in absence of CPT (Curricular Practical Training) international students faces that jeopardize their off-campus work opportunities. The consequence of such resource inequality not only strips away what-could-have-been intellectually challenging opportunities for international students but also places the international students in a competitively disadvantaged position compared to both their domestic peers and international peers at schools that offer Curricular Practical Training.

The lack of academic and job-oriented resources illustrates an institutional inequality at Reed, that stems from unawareness and lack of understanding of international students’ difficulties during their transitions into a foreign culture. While being expected to keep up with the academic challenges at Reed, international students are expected to live up to the campus culture socially, too. However, with the most recent anti-racist protests as an example, the lack of international students’ involvement delineates the unaddressed insecurity of attending such events, as well as social repercussions for not attending such events, which further widens the barrier between international students and domestic students. There is an ever-present feeling of double-consciousness among international students in an environment of expected cultural/political homogeneity in the public discourse on Reed campus, whereas the reality is, the majority of international students are in the US for the first time in their life. This reality is too oftentimes left unaddressed and unabridged which only alleviates the institutional inequality and the feeling of strangeness on campus. For the Reed community, we are hoping to see more actions to address such a lack of resources in the international student body as what the honor principle describes, ‘Each of us deserves equal opportunity to teach, to learn, and to grow.’

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