In the wake of Donald Trump’s unexpected victory in last Tuesday’s presidential election, international students at Yale view the incoming Trump administration as a cause both for concern and for action.
International Yalies were invited to attend on open meeting hosted by the Office of International Students and Scholars late Monday afternoon. The discussion, moderated by OISS adviser Ozan Say, served as a forum for students to express their opinions on issues both specific to international students and to the student body at large. Logistical topics including student visas were covered alongside more philosophical ones, such as the role international students should play in American political discussions.
“There is little we know at this point for sure about the possible directions the new administration will take,” Say said.“So the purpose of these gatherings is not to inform [students] per se, but to offer an opportunity to voice their thoughts and concerns together with their international peers.”
Say began the conversation by stressing that, despite Trump’s campaign rhetoric and the promises he made about immigration policy, “we just don’t know much.” Trump’s platform includes building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and deporting up to three million undocumented immigrants with criminal records. Say also referenced recent instances in which Trump has already backtracked on some of his proposed policies in health care.
Say offered a note of consolation, emphasizing that any changes in immigration policy will first require extensive discussion and time before they are implemented.
The only swift changes Trump could make, Say said, would be those within the purview of executive action such as Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows certain undocumented immigrants to receive renewable two-year work permits and deportation exemptions. Even if Trump decided to exercise executive action, he could be sued for any move deemed as “arbitrary or capricious,” Say added.
Say emphasized that inherent in the U.S. political system are safeguards against the drastic changes to immigration or student visa policy that Trump could propose. Currently international students apply for the F1 student visa and Optional Practical Training status in order to study and work in the U.S.
Although international students are unlikely to be affected by political reform, Say said they may notice changes in social climate during a Trump presidency.
During the discussion, two international students from India voiced concerns that Trump’s ascent to power had given confirmation and validation to proponents of racism and xenophobia, comparing Trump’s effect on America’s social climate to that of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s in India.
Ewurama Okai ’17, a student from Zambia, said she felt she had been failed by America, a country that in her view offered a promise of acceptance and “melting pot” culture.
“To feel that you have lost something, and to realize it was a failure you had no control over, that can feel very alienating,” Okai said.
Ariq Hatibie ’20, a Muslim international student from Hong Kong, echoed Okai’s disappointment. He noted that his conversations about America with his peers in high school painted a rosy picture of America as “an unequivocally rich and prosperous intellectual center.” He added that his perception of America was drastically altered by the election’s results and expressed a desire to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the America outside of Yale’s “liberal bubble.”
Attendees who come from largely conservative countries said they have experienced difficulty navigating the liberal dialogue on campus since the election.
A student from Singapore who chose to remain anonymous for fear of backlash noted that he could empathize with people who had voted for Trump, mentioning that his experience as a member of the Chinese majority in Singapore allows him to understand Trump supporters’ anti-immigrant feelings.
Others noted that they felt safe within Yale but were uneasy about what is happening beyond Yale’s gates, referring to recent acts of aggression towards Muslim students at other colleges such as San Diego State University.
“Yale has always been a friendly and liberal place, but I am legitimately concerned about some of my friends who go to school in the South,” said Azan Virji ’17, who comes from Tanzania.
University President Peter Salovey and former president Richard Levin have both expressed unequivocal support for welcoming international students to the university in the past. Both Presidents have advocated for immigration regulations that help foster a productive environment for international students, Say said.
Okai added that she feared the potential collapse of major American institutions, such as journalism and trust in scientific evidence.
“We think of America as this place where institutions were meant to stand forever, as the city that’s supposed to withstand everything,” she said. “And it’s collapsing just because one person said some things. How do you get people to speak the same language again after this?”
Several attendees also expressed a sentiment that their voices as international students were often discounted, noting a common notion that international students come to Yale only to study and not to stay. To counter these concerns, Okai urged other attendees to adopt a philosophy of greater engagement.
Stephanie Addenbrooke ’17, former Editor-in-Chief of the News and a student from the U.K., said in recent days she already saw many of her peers “stepping up to the plate” and becoming more politically active.
“People are saying, ‘this is a community I care about, and I’m going to fight for it,’” Addenbrooke said.
International students at Yale represent 20 percent of the student body, according to Yale’s official website.