Lily Croskey-Englert / Sun Staff Photographer

International students voice the issues they face as graduate students at an event hosted by CGSU.

February 9, 2017

‘This Union is Us’: International Graduate Students Share Struggles at CGSU Event

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As graduate students grow closer to filing for a vote, international graduate students work to maintain their voice in the fight for unionization, sharing the struggles they face while studying in the United States at a panel hosted by Cornell Graduate Students United.

With international students making up almost half the entire population of graduate students, ensuring the union is representative of all students is of particular importance for Sebastian Sclofsky, organizing chair of Graduate Assistants United at the University of Florida.

“We organize it. We make the decisions. We make a lot of mistakes but it’s our mistakes. The union belongs to us,” Sclofsky said.

Nomfundo Makhubo, organizer of the event, also stressed the importance of keeping a seat for international students in the conversation as CGSU strives to cham­pion respect, fair­ness and democracy.

“We are trying to fight for an international-student-sensitive work environment,” she said. “I think this is an important time for international students and grad students in general to stand up and make themselves count­ed and make themselves heard and to use this as a vehicle to achieve the things that they deserve and the things that they really want.”

Students also raised issues regarding President Donald Trump’s recent changes and cap for H1-B visas, which allow U.S. businesses to recruit foreign employees in speciality occupations for a limited time.

“It is frustrating that there is a 65,000 cap because that’s not a lot of people. That’s basically all the people who were at the Super Bowl and it’s a very small number,” said Brendan O’Brien, director of the International Students and Scholars Office,.

Concerning the issue of maintaining legal status, O’Brien advised international students to “be a registered full time student, keep immigration documents up to date, seek authorization before accepting employment, not be arrested or convicted of a crime and to check with the ISSO if there are any questions or concerns.”

Sclofsky highlighted the differences in legal actions and healthcare for international students.

“We don’t have the legal protections that Americans have. We don’t have the benefits. I don’t qualify for the Affordable Care Act. I don’t qualify for federal loans,” Sclofsky said.

Asli Menevse grad shared her experience as a student filing an evaluation that was “systematically attacking my abilities as an instructor because I sound foreign.”

“At that moment, I realized that it doesn’t matter where you’re coming from or how hard you try, you might be undermined just because of who you are,” Menevse said.

However, O’Brien reinforced the important role international graduate students fill on Cornell’s campus.

“It’s been a difficult time for all international students, particularly for the students from the seven affected countries due to the executive order,” O’Brien said. “I would like to say, from the bottom my heart, how happy we are to have international students here at Cornell. You make Cornell a very special place.”