April 13, 2022

STUDENT ASSEMBLY VIEWPOINT | Isolated Halfway Across the World: Cornell Fails to Protect International Students

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“I got locked out of my dorm and every building on campus,” said Anastasia He ’24. I can clearly see her desperation.

He is an international student in the College of Human Ecology. She requested to go on leave for a semester and was forced to go back to China while having to deal with international travel restrictions, expensive flights and quarantine in China.

He first got an email during winter break before school started, being told that her student status would be withdrawn unless she appealed before the Jan 18 deadline. Because the email appeared just like any other University newsletter, He mistakenly ignored it. Everything was normal until Jan 21 when she suddenly got locked out of her dorm and her student access was revoked while still on campus.

She originally thought that there was a problem with her COVID-testing status, but after checking with the administration, she was told that her student status was withdrawn and that she was put on requested leave by the academic committee. The administration claimed that because she missed the Jan 18 email deadline, her fate was sealed; there was nothing they could do.

She got no warning and no academic probation, but was directly requested to leave.

The principal reason why her student status was withdrawn was that the College of Human Ecology claimed that she did not take more than 12 credits in the past semester and violated her full-time student status. This wasn’t the case; because of the Omicron variant outbreak on campus, one of He’s final exams had been postponed to the beginning of the Spring semester. Therefore, this 3-credit course was displayed as “incomplete” on her transcript. However, the Professor left a note on her transcript saying that the course will be complete at the beginning of the Spring semester so students that were unable to finish the exam due to COVID would finally be able to do so.

Additionally, The Human Ecology administration claimed that her student status also was invalidated due to her failure to meet the College of Human Ecology requirement to complete 12 credits of core courses before their junior year. Yet the only thing that failed was the College administration. He had taken nine of those credits already with the final three coming when she completed her COVID-postponed final. How could she take a final if she was kicked out of the school before she even had the chance? 

The administration of the College of Human ecology replied that there was nothing that could be done past the appeal deadline. They also told He that in past years, students that were put on requested leave were given a two-week buffer for them to organize everything, yet He was only offered one week.

The only words the Dean of Students from the Campus Life Office could muster were “we are so sorry this is happening,” when He told them that her daily life was being affected severely.

She wrote to the housing office asking if they could let her stay in her dorm while she tried purchasing a ticket back to China, but they never replied.

She then turned to the Office of Global Learning for help and asked if her visa could be extended as it would be illegal to continue staying in the U.S. a week after her student status was withdrawn. Surprisingly, the Office of Global Learning said that they had no idea that she requested to leave and they also could do nothing about it.

He spent more than $15,000 scrambling to purchase the only available flight ticket while needing to be quarantined for a week before the flight and an additional 21 days after she landed.

COVID is making international students increasingly vulnerable. Imagine an international student who is in a difficult financial situation and cannot afford a flight ticket back home; what can they do without any help from our school?

As mentioned by International Student Liaison at Large JohnJohn Jiang ’22, the establishment of the International Student Affairs Committee on the Student Assembly is an excellent way to help more international students get their voices and problems heard and solved. Given that international students make up more than 20 percent of the student body, it is impossible for just one person to help them all. A committee will be able to better represent and help as many international students as possible. Disappointingly, this resolution failed in the Student Assembly. But if we don’t have the committee fast, how can we help international students ASAP when they need it? What is the purpose of even having a Student Assembly if we don’t do everything possible to help our students?

It is shocking, disheartening and unacceptable that Cornell has not stepped up to help Anastasia He at all. All they did was make her situation worse. We cannot keep doing nothing and not know what to do when there are struggling and vulnerable students desperately needing help. We need to do something to figure out a way to help international students, and the establishment of an International Student Committee is a good starting point. How can Cornell be a place espousing the beliefs of “any person any study” when we do not do our best to make sure that any person can truly get that any study?

Luna Lu is the Freshman Representative to the Student Assembly and a freshman in the College of Arts & Sciences. Luna is this week’s author of Student Assembly Viewpoint, a rotating column written by members of the SA. Comments may be sent to [email protected]. Student Assembly Viewpoint runs every other Thursday this semester.