March 11, 2013

EDITORIAL: Questioning the Need for an International Student Center

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Last month, the Student Assembly passed a vaguely-worded resolution strongly supporting the establishment of an international student center.  Cornell’s international student population surely has unmet needs; limited available financial aid is undoubtedly one. But we press the S.A. to furnish evidence that a center would ameloriate “under-support” for international students that the resolution alleges. We also challenge the S.A. to demonstrate that its support for this center comes from demand from its constituents in the international community at Cornell.

Cornell has an obligation to assist its international students as they acclimate to life in the United States. The University should provide resources to help students acquire and maintain visas, find housing, secure health insurance and manage their finances. But the International Students and Scholars Office already does this and more. ISSO offers walk-in advising services five days a week, sponsors various programs and maintains a website with extensive information on adjusting to life in the U.S. Where the ISSO’s purview ends, academic centers such as the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies aim to educate Cornellians on transnational issues. There are also scores of multicultural student organizations that provide micro-communities for different groups within the international population.

We question whether there is a compelling interest to lump international students into a single group for social or cultural purposes. Cornell’s international population is very large — including more than 4,000 students — and very diverse, with students hailing from countless races, ethnicities, nationalities and socioeconomic backgrounds. Given the wide range of experiences of international students, it would likely be difficult to address all of their needs with a single center. We also worry that an international center could inspire social segregation, which would defeat part of the value students from abroad can gain by coming to study in a new country.

A distinction must be drawn between the proposed international student center and spaces that exist for other student interest groups at Cornell: the LGBT Resource Center, the Center for Intercultural Dialogue at 626 Thurston Ave. and the newly approved Muslim cultural center, to name a few. The groups that use these centers have clear, shared identities or histories of marginalization that necessitate shared communal space. The centers facilitate historical studies and spread awareness with the intent of dispelling stereotypes and misconceptions.

We are skeptical that a new center would meet needs of international students that the ISSO, the Einaudi Center and other centers do not already address. We hope that in considering the S.A.’s request, the University will evaluate whether the need for an international student center is pressing enough to prioritize at this time.