The associate dean of student services at the OU David Boren L. College of International Studies addressed challenges facing international students during the COVID-19 pandemic in a Zoom webinar Wednesday afternoon.
Rebecca Cruise, who’s also a professor at the college, said international students are often already at a social and financial disadvantage in the United States. She said they often also feel unincluded in important discussions on OU’s campus, even though they make up 6.1 percent of the university’s student body, according to the 2019 OU Fact Book.
Those effects are only heightened during a pandemic, Cruise said.
International students across the country often have visas restricting where and how much they can work, Cruise said, which means less money for them to live on. Many international students at OU have visas that allow them to only work on campus, giving them relatively few job options.
Cruise said, additionally, many international students have to combat negative opinions and incorrect assumptions about them, as well as feelings of tokenization. She also said many feel they are seen as just money-makers in the national and state economies instead of as individuals.
“They are so much more than their tuition dollars, or even the money that they put into an economy,” Cruise said.
International students across the nation have noticed an increase in xenophobic, Islamophobic and nationalist behavior, and OU is not immune to that, Cruise said.
“International students are facing these challenges on the daily,” Cruise said. “They are hearing comments that are, at best, rude, and, at worst, threatening.”
Cruise said these instances, whether major incidents or microaggressions, are often not issues these students face in their home countries, so they are forced to build up new defenses once arriving in the United States.
These issues for OU’s international students have only been heightened by the breakout of COVID-19 in Oklahoma and the resulting closure of the OU campus, Cruise said.
Cruise said international students have identified a lack of transportation and technological access, as well as food insecurity, as huge stressors during the pandemic.
She said she and other university employees recently found out that the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, which was designed to alleviate coronavirus-related financial burdens placed on universities and university students, can’t go to international students or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients.
She said, though, that international students at OU can turn to Sooners Helping Sooners for financial help.
Cruise also said that many OU services, like Goddard Health Services and on-campus housing, have remained open for international students, proving that the university hasn’t abandoned those students like some universities around the country.
However, OU services like Sooners Helping Sooners and the OU Food Pantry can use community members’ financial support, Cruise said, and that support will largely go to help international and undocumented students.
Cruise said it’s important for American community members to stay engaged and educated on issues that affect international students.
“We have a responsibility to not put the weight of labor on our international students to educate us,” Cruise said. “We need to take that responsibility and go out and educate ourselves and then engage in discussions with our colleagues, with international students and others.”