Students question Yale’s international focus under Levin

As Levin’s last year at Yale begins, some students are seeking a more varied approach to the internationalization of Yale’s brand, hoping that the next president will make strides in emerging economies like those of Latin America.
As Levin’s last year at Yale begins, some students are seeking a more varied approach to the internationalization of Yale’s brand, hoping that the next president will make strides in emerging economies like those of Latin America. Photo by Sarah Eckinger.

Throughout his nearly 20-year tenure, University President Richard Levin has sought to expand Yale’s presence abroad. But with a new president taking the helm in the next academic year, some students are hoping to see the scope of those efforts broaden.

Several of the initiatives Levin has launched to increase Yale’s presence abroad in recent years — such as an exchange program with Peking University in Beijing and a partnership with the National University of Singapore to build a liberal arts college — have focused on forging connections with Asian countries. Though few debate that Levin has succeeded in growing the University’s brand on an international stage, some cultural group leaders in the Latin American, African and Middle Eastern communities feel the president’s agenda has focused disproportionately on Asia at the expense of other regions.

“I did get this perception that [Levin] was pushing this Asian agenda a lot,” said Murat Dagli ’14, president of the Latin American Student Organization. “It was always China, always Singapore.”

Levin said in a Thursday email that the University has increased its presence “on every continent,” citing heightened health-related work in Africa and expanded alumni involvement in Latin America. He added that Yale has “hundreds” of research partnerships and exchange programs in Europe, including the Yale-University College London exchange program for doctoral students.

Still, other efforts have focused strongly on Asia. In addition to creating Yale-NUS College and the Yale-PKU program, which was cancelled over the summer due to low enrollment, Yale has also placed an emphasis on the region in its Visiting International Student Program. Launched at the start of the previous academic year, the program initially brought students from Mexico and Singapore to study at Yale for one year. It added Hong Kong this year and plans to include another Asian country — Japan — for the 2013-’14 academic year, according to Melina Sánchez ’14, the student liaison for the program.

The availability of opportunities for East Asian study has raised concerns among some cultural group leaders who fear Yale’s focus on Asia may take away from the study of other regions.

“If I wanted to go to China, I’d be all set,” said Diana Enriquez ’13, a leader at the Latin American group MEChA. “If you are really serious about Latin America in general, the only way to do it is to know people or find people who have worked [there] in the past. Yale doesn’t really have a solid network there.”

Of more than 1,300 Yale students who studied abroad during the 2010-’11 school year, over 700 went to Europe and more than 300 went to Asia, according to the Center for International and Professional Experience. That same year, only 138 studied abroad in Latin America, 81 in Africa and 27 in the Middle East.

Brian Mwiti ’13, a leader at the Yale African Students Association, said he thinks the “disproportionate” emphasis on Asia may have hindered the studies of other regions.

“In my three years at Yale, the African Studies Department has seen its budget progressively cut, hampering its capacity to increase discussion and study opportunities on campus,” said Mwiti, who is abroad in Kenya, in a Thursday email. “Africa is poised as the new frontier of socioeconomic development and Yale should be seen to be central to this development.”

But other cultural group leaders said they appreciate Levin’s work to internationalize Yale’s brand and did not feel that their regions have been marginalized as a result. And even those who criticized the direction of his international efforts said they can understand the desire to forge ties in Asia given its rapid growth.

Samer Sabri ’13, the former president of the Arab Students Association, said he thinks the focus on Asia “makes sense” and does not detract from other regions. He added that he recognizes that it may be difficult for the University currently to “engage with the Arab world,” but reaffirmed the importance of expanding Yale’s international presence more broadly.

Diego Salvatierra ’13, former president of the Latin American Student Organization, said he does not think Latin America has been left out, though he did say he wished there were more Latin American students on campus.

The top six countries represented in Yale’s international student population are China, Canada, India, South Korea, Germany and the United Kingdom, according to the Office of Institutional Research.

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