Lukas Flippo

To accommodate the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy on remote learning, Yale departments have created in-person learning options to ensure that first-year international students will be able to study in the United States. 

After the federal government announced that all international students were prohibited from fall enrollment in the United States if their college’s instruction model was completely online, Yale — along with 58 other colleges and universities — joined Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in their lawsuit against DHS and ICE. But just 10 days after the withdrawal, ICE announced another guidance that forbade new international students — students who had not yet studied in the United States — from entering the country if all of their courses were online.

“At one point, the administration said no international students could come unless they took an in-person course,” said Douglas Tracy Smith Professor of Comparative Literature Pericles Lewis. “Then, they changed the rule and said that first-year international students had to take an in-person course.”

Lewis said that most of the University’s schools and graduate departments have created some type of in-person coursework to ensure that all international students could “get their visas and come here.”

Lewis serves as vice president for global strategy and vice provost for academic initiatives and said that academic planning in response to COVID-19 began as early as April. On July 6, just a few days after the university released a reopening plan for the fall, the federal government announced the international student ban. Lewis also chaired the Academic Continuity Committee for COVID-19 Contingency Planning and expressed that he was “disappointed” with the government’s decision. He said that his committee immediately began plans to have “as many courses as we could reasonably manage in-person.”

While the bulk of Yale’s instruction is entirely online, there are a handful of classes taught in person, following strict public health guidelines.

One of the in-person courses being offered is taught by Lewis. Enrollment in his undergraduate humanities lecture, “Purposes of College Education,” consists mostly of first-year international students. Lewis said that he feels “perfectly safe” teaching the approximately 50 undergraduate students who attend his class in Marsh Lecture Hall — an auditorium that can seat up to 500 people.

Along with arriving early to class so students do not crowd the doorway, Lewis mentioned social distancing floor decals and the requirement that everybody wear a mask. Section for the half-credit course is offered remotely. And lectures are recorded for students who may not be able to attend the course in person.

A student in Lewis’ class, Sude Yenilmez ’24, expressed frustration with the ICE policy. Yenilmez is currently enrolled in four other courses alongside the humanities lecture, totaling five credits for her first semester at Yale.

She told the News that both the immigration officer at the border and her visa interviewer asked her to confirm that she would be taking an in-person course. Yenilmez said that her schedule was “set in stone” prior to learning about the federal requirement for entering the country. While she said that her college dean was understanding of her unusually heavy first-year course load, Yenilmez said that it felt like “an extra burden” just to be on Yale’s campus.

Yenilmez said that she was enjoying Yale and learning more about different cultures and customs practiced in America, but that she wished the rules that helped her to stay in the country weren’t so “rigid.”

Other students described the in-person component of the course as an enjoyable part of the campus experience.

“The in-person component is actually interesting and kind of fun because it gives me a sense of what Yale is really like,” said Shan Gunasekera ’24, a first year from Sri Lanka in Lewis’ course.

Gunasekera, who is currently enrolled remotely in Directed Studies and MATH 120, alongside the in-person course, said that social distancing and other public health guidelines were well-enforced in Lewis’ class. He would sit more than six feet apart from his classmates and echoed Lewis’ sentiments that he felt “really comfortable” during lecture.

Gunasekera noted that his transition to campus life was “pretty traditional,” aside from having to move in late. Gunasekera also mentioned that the Office of International Students and Scholars helped him obtain his visa and appreciates the “personalized attention” from the OISS community.

“A lot of what Yale did put us in a really lucky position compared to other colleges,” Gunasekera told the News.

Gunasekera expressed feeling “a lot of uncertainty” during the month of July upon hearing about the federal government’s plan to prohibit first-year international students from studying remotely in the United States. He pointed to other universities like Harvard who were unable to accommodate their students for the fall term. Harvard is completely remote this semester, citing “the unpredictability of current government policies and the uncertainty of the COVID-19 crisis” as reasons against a hybrid instruction model.

OISS has a FAQ page on their website that addresses common questions and assures international students that their “nonimmigrant status” will remain intact if Yale must shift to full remote instruction at any time for public health reasons.

Lewis also mentioned Yale’s contingency plan in the event of a coronavirus outbreak and said that, if necessary, the university will allow international students to remain on campus for the holidays if their home countries close their borders.

“We had to figure out how to accommodate first-year international students because we didn’t want to say [to] just stay home,” Lewis said.

11 percent of the 1,267 enrolled first-year students hail from countries outside of the United States.

Zaporah Price | zaporah.price@yale.edu