March 6, 2013

Resolution Brings Cornell International Student Center Closer to Creation

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International students are a step closer to having a center to call their own after the Student Assembly passed a resolution in an 18-2 vote.

According to Enrico Bonatti ’14, S.A. international representative at large, the center will provide international students with a meeting space and centralize  resources available to them at the University.

Bonatti, an international student, said that the center  would meet a need for international students on campus.

“Cornell needs to become a friendlier place for international students,” Bonatti said. “[In this project] there was a lot of input from international students. . . . It has been something that [they] have been wanting and needing for a long time.”

S.A. President Adam Gitlin ’13 said that the initiative, sponsored by Bonatti, aligns well with the assembly’s goal of “[elevating] the student life experience of all students on campus.”

The resolution has been sent to President David Skorton, who has 30 days to respond to the resolution. If the resolution is approved, Skorton would commission a task force comprised of representatives from the Office of the Dean of Students, International Students and Scholars Office and international students.

This task force will have the responsibility of speaking with international students, discovering what they would want in the center and taking inventory of spaces on campus that could house the center, according to the resolution. The resolution also states that the findings will be presented to the S.A. at their first meeting in Spring 2014.

“We’re not asking for a new building to be built,” Bonatti said. “This would have to be something connected to and maybe run by the International Students and Scholars Office.”

He said that, currently, the ISSO is the closest thing that Cornell has to an international student center.

Brendan O’Brien, director of the ISSO , said that although he has met with Bonatti more than once regarding the establishment of the center, he does not yet “exactly know what form it would take or the details of it.”

“I think the center may have great potential to enhance the experience of international students and the student body in general . . . but I think there are some challenges with budget and space,” O’Brien said.

Bonatti said that although the ISSO provides international students and faculty with resources such as assistance with immigration, tax and labor regulations, and counseling for social and academic affairs, there is still a need for a tighter sense of community among the more than 4,000 international graduate and undergraduate students.

He said that at the moment, a lot of international students mainly socialize with people of the same nationality.

“[This] makes it very hard for international students to have a voice … the international community is very fragmented,” Bonatti said.

Felix Tabary ’14, an international student from France, said the center could be beneficial to the international student community at Cornell.

“I hope [this center] helps international students meet each other and realize that there are lots of us on campus,” he said.

Bonatti also said that while the center will attempt to build a more cohesive international community on campus, it will not serve as a social space.

“We’re not trying to put all the international students together so that they can only hang out [with each other]. That’s not the point,” he said. “The last thing we want is to create a ‘clique.’”

Bonatti said the two S.A. representatives who voted against the center “were worried that the center would decrease interaction between the international students and the rest of campus … [or] create a more closed environment for [them].”

Bonatti said, however, that non-international students would also be welcome at the center.

“[The] center is not just for international students; it’s also for American students to go and learn [about] and meet international students,” he said.

Original Author: Sarah Sassoon