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A Chinese student responds to concerns and controversy regarding international students

By Youxuan Lucy Jiang, Senior, Computer Science and Psychology

I am a senior international student from China majoring in computer science and psychology at Miami University. There have been a few dangerous stories targeting international students and their worth at Miami. I think it's time to share my story, a counter story. I have spent three years on this beautiful campus, participating in four research projects, getting two internships, volunteering in two nonprofit organizations and receiving more than 10 awards, including the 2013 Provost Academic Achievement Award - the highest academic award for Miami's undergraduates. The biggest support I receive at Miami is always from the knowledgeable, enthusiastic and supportive faculty members, who completely understand my situation and are always willing to help. That is why I am seriously concerned about the picture of international students painted by the Anonymous Concerned Faculty Member in his article.

Although I completely understand the author's concern regarding disengaged students with the lack of English literacy, I am surprised that he/she simply portrayed those students as a burden without mentioning any strategies he/she used to help them. The use of words like "dead weight" and "negative impacts of one section of the student population on other sections" mistakenly portrayed students with international backgrounds as being disengaged, disrespectful, threatening and "excludable" to the "American classroom identification," which can cause Miami community to decrease their support of international students. That is why I decided to share my experiences to challenge the dangerous single story targeting Miami students with international backgrounds. The single story can block Miami's international students from being successful and it can hurt the university by contradicting its own mission. There need to be strategies to help to engage international students and contribute to campus diversity.

During my first day at Miami, I was too nervous to talk to the staff from a different race, using a different language. I was not able to follow her "incredible speaking rate" and do mental translation back and forth simultaneously. At that time, a student with the staff explained their purpose and gave me his contact information in case I needed any help, which strongly encouraged me to speak up and make new friends. I've learned not to feel shame when making speaking mistakes from my outgoing and helpful friends, who helped me learn American culture and improve my English skills. I've learned rigorous academic attitudes from my patient and supportive professors, who helped me achieve the academic standard. I've learned team spirit and open-mindedness from my project team members, who praised my unique opinions and encouraged me to share my thinking process.

However, not all international students are lucky enough to have such a support group standing behind them. The demeaning attitude in the dangerous single story can strongly reduce their attempts in learning. If I was called "dead weight" when failing to understand what the staff said in my first day at Miami, how could I teach a 100 minute programming course as a substitute teacher one year later?

The anonymous faculty member described the abhorrent English literacy and disengagement of international students in his/her class. Although the concern is totally understandable, simply portraying those students as a burden is exactly what blocks them from improving their English and engagement, because international students are eagerly in need of time and support to learn how to think in English without mental burden.

The anonymous faculty member also mentioned his/her concerns regarding the negative impacts of "unqualified international students" to other students "who deserved more of his/her time". Although faculty members certainly have the right to manage their coursework, simply portraying a group of students as a burden actually hurts the university itself, because it creates a contradiction of Miami's mission that "values teaching and intense engagement of faculty with students…by inviting students into the excitement of research and discovery." When I gave the lecture to 50 students, both domestic and five Chinese international students displayed strong engagement to ask and answer questions, regardless of whether they had an accent or not. Does that mean as a sophomore, I was better at teaching than the Anonymous Faculty member?

During my three-year experience at Miami, I saw how the community advanced itself to help engage international students, and there are definitely more things we can do. In terms of English literacy, do we introduce Howe Writing Center to every international student? Do we have enough programs for domestic students to share their studying abroad experience with international students? Do we have enough teaching assistants to help students improve their class performance? In terms of disengagement, due to lack of knowledge, it is common for international students to register for courses they are not able to afford yet. Do we teach them where to get course information? Can we help international students estimate if they need more time to prepare themselves before taking certain courses? In terms of group work, some professors asked students to turn in evaluation sheets to estimate each team member's contribution. Is it a good way to achieve fair grading across students with different backgrounds?

During my volunteer interview on Miami's suicide prevention team, I received a question, "would you be able to speak up for your group as an international student from Asia, because those people are usually silent on campus?" My answer was yes. YES! I have made a claim to break the silence as a Miami student and take my responsibility to help create a supportive and culturally engaging campus. That is why I decided to share my story - a counter story that challenges the dangerous single story targeting Miami students with international backgrounds.

That is what I have learned from Miami.