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Submission: State rhetoric about international students is antithetical to its values

By Ashraf Beshay

November 14, 2017 10:29 pm

A few weeks ago, a UCLA professor asked international students to stay behind after class. He told them how rigorous their writing-intensive English Composition 3 course was and that they should feel comfortable dropping the class if they didn’t feel prepared for the writing standards of the class.

This is a form of subtle discrimination. There are certainly better ways to support international students, such as through offering extra office hours and directing them to writing resources that they can find helpful.

This is not an uncommon event, though. There are often certain perceptions of international students that undermine our value and contribution to the campus community. This attitude is quite pervasive and not limited to the confines of our classrooms.

Day in and day out, many international students feel like they don’t belong at UCLA – like this campus is just another stop for them in life and not a home where they can thrive and flourish. When it comes to policy, international students feel like pawns in a large political game in which they have no voice and no power. For that reason, international students’ merit can be quickly overlooked.

Last month, Gov. Jerry Brown approved Assembly Bill 1674 titled “Fair Access to University of California Act of 2017.” The act requests that the UC give no preference to a nonresident over a resident applicant for admission, making it necessary for nonresidents to have better academic records compared to resident applicants. While at face value this may make sense, there are many complexities that are not accounted for in such a demand.

Here are some facts: The UC is offering a seat to 60 percent of California resident applicants on at least one of its undergraduate campuses – a percentage that has only been slightly decreasing, primarily due to the continued increase in California high school graduates and the limited number of seats any physical university can sustain. Between 2007 and 2012 alone, due to the recession, the UC and California State University systems received funding cuts totaling $2 billion. In 2011, for the first time, more of the UC’s budget came from student tuition fees than from state funding.

According to UC fall 2016 enrollment statistics, 175,495 UC students were residents, which is 83.5 percent of the student population. More than 10 percent were international and nearly 6 percent were domestic nonresidents. This means that only about one in 10 UC students are international and about one in 20 are out of state. It’s important to acknowledge that these are not significant numbers, despite what state politicians may make it seem. Nonetheless, the UC’s loyalty to its in-state students continues to be questioned, forcing the UC Regents to make decision after decision to prove otherwise.

What is problematic about this quarrel – and the bill – is that it suggests that international students are a burden on the UC and Californians.

But that could not be further from the truth. International students have narratives from all over the world. Even for residents, the value of being with a group of people with different cultures, ways of thinking, perceptions of life, language competencies and life experiences cannot be equated with anything else. This multiculturalism, in fact, is part of the education a university promises its students: one that challenges them and opens their eyes to what the world has to offer.

A word like “diversity” gets thrown around a lot as a merit of the university and even the state, but this bill fails to recognize that much of the diversity of our campuses comes from international students. The fact that we come from all over the world is not just a reality we share, but a reflection of a crucial guiding value of our university – the value that anyone from anywhere can find their home here and achieve their dreams.

As a democratic state, we should not restrict the progressive value of increasing accessibility to higher education to one’s country of origin. Most international students recognize that there is an obligation the state has to Californians specifically, and it’s not like nonresidents take funds away from taxpayers; on the contrary, nonresidents contribute great sums of money to the UC through paying supplemental tuition, which helps pay for the UC’s academic programs and endeavors.

I’m an international student from Egypt, and according to the UC statistics from fall 2016, only 22 undergraduates from Egypt were enrolled at a UC as international students a year ago. That’s roughly two per campus. The state must realize that the world has incredible talents that the UC should be interested in recruiting, not just in faculty and administrators, but also in students. Our applications consist of experiences and narratives that often no other applicant will share, making our candidacies stand out beyond what our academic record says, even when our grade-point averages may not be the highest. Additionally, on campuses such as UCLA, international students have lower acceptance rates and higher academic score averages.

The international community has endured a lack of support for many years when it comes to both UC and state policy, but the recent state bill is plainly unjust and a clear attack on UC values of inclusivity. Building a world-class institution requires a worldwide population. Closing our doors on those who have potential and want to live out their dreams is shameful.

Beshay is a fifth-year biology student.

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Ashraf Beshay
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