The undergraduate student government has typically been foreign to international students.
It is no secret that international students have needs that are different from those of local students. They struggle with visa issues and nonresident tuition, while trying to find jobs and internships that will accept them. They also have a difficult time adjusting to the academically rigorous environment at UCLA because they often come from different educational backgrounds.
To add to the list, the Undergraduate Students Association Council has largely stayed out of international student affairs. But it may have a solution to the aforementioned problems, as well as a way to make student governance relevant to international students.
The council proposed adding a new position earlier this month to represent the international student community. Council members voted 10-2-1 in favor of allowing the student body to decide in the upcoming USAC election whether to add an undergraduate international student representative. If the ballot measure passes, the student body will have the opportunity in 2019 to vote for candidates running for the new office.
An international student representative position can be an effective way to cater to the needs of UCLA’s international population, through academic and financial support and advocacy on issues such as nonresident tuition hikes. However, as of now, it is unclear how the representative would contribute to the international community or how USAC’s programs for international students would offer support and services beyond those already provided by the Dashew Center for International Students and Scholars. Without clear guidelines and responsibilities, the position could end up being nothing more than bureaucratic waste.
USAC must clearly define the roles and duties of the representative before a potential 2019 election for the position.
Currently, Dashew Center is the main resource for international students. The center not only provides visa services, but also organizes social events, trips, language development workshops and career fairs.
Kayla He, USAC general representative 2 and one of the council members who proposed the position, said the international representative would work closely with the Dashew Center to provide feedback on its events and workshops, and highlight issues that require greater attention, such as the University of California Board of Regents’ decision to increase nonresident tuition.
“The general idea behind the position is to help international students transition smoothly to UCLA by providing them with resources such as academic support, career opportunities and mental health workshops,” He said.
She added the new representative would discuss with administrators the financial issues that international students face.
“Some students have to walk back home for 30 minutes instead of taking an Uber, because (the) nonresident tuition fee is so high and most international students do not qualify for financial aid or scholarships,” He said. “The representative would work on issues like this and try to negotiate for the international community.”
Historically, USAC has not been a space that has been easily accessible for most international students. He said many international students are unaware of the council and its work, and thus do not participate in it, be it by running for office or by voting. In 2017, there was an increase in international students’ participation in USAC after Internal Vice President Vivy Li and He, who associate closely with the international student community, ran – and won – in the election.
A representative who understands the challenges that international students face could advocate for and
represent international students in administrative decisions and campus happenings.
But without clear guidelines, it is difficult to say how the position would be beneficial as the Dashew Center already holds events to help international students develop academically, socially and professionally. There is a lot of overlap between what the Dashew Center does and what the council’s current vision for the position is. Therefore, council members cannot afford to be vague about their objectives for the potential office.
For example, the representative could be tasked with meeting regularly with the Dashew Center and campus administrators to advocate for pressing issues facing the international student body. The representative could also publicize Dashew Center’s events through USAC, which has a large following.
Many international students believe that the position can help give a voice to international students, but needs specificity.
“I think the new position would be a good way to have an international student raise issues that we face because the representative would have personal experience … trying to settle into a foreign environment,” said Snehal Bindra, a second-year neuroscience student. “But I’m not sure about the specific duties of the representative, and I think that USAC needs to work more on it.”
Raghav Gupta, a second-year financial actuarial mathematics student, said he is concerned about the cost of adding a new representative to the undergraduate council.
“(The new position) can definitely be helpful but I’m scared it may be a waste of money,” Gupta said. “The funds can be used to help international students in other ways such as arranging workshops and fairs to help them adjust to LA.”
Some may argue that the transfer student representative position, which was added to the council in 2014 via a similar ballot process, didn’t have institutionalized goals but has emerged as a successful office. However, it should be noted that the international student population already has myriad programs through the Dashew Center. International students do not require more programs, but instead need a representative who can voice their perspective on the council and help shape the administration’s decisions.
The proposal for the new position is definitely a good start to help international students who have long been underrepresented in USAC. But without a clear set of goals, the position stands to be an aggrandized general representative that this campus doesn’t necessarily need.