The Bowdoin “Facts and Figures” highlight that there are 44 different countries represented in the student body. In the last few months of the pandemic, the administration has failed to address the complexity of this diverse group resulting in a situation where the international students are impacted disproportionately from the lack of attention the administration has put towards tackling concerns during the online transition and with its recent decision of how the fall semester will work.
First, let’s look back a few months to the online transition. The original plan released by the college had no additional provisions considering the precarious position of international students. With 57% of the student body coming from New England and the Mid-Atlantic region, concerns relating to finding a place to live, storing belongings, traveling to the college, and other related matters, did not appear as major challenges for a majority of the school.
Nonetheless, the Offer of the College doesn’t just pledge to protect the majority of students, it covers all of them. And it isn’t only the international students that are being hurt and will continue to be hurt by the decision of how the fall semester will take place, as the decision disproportionately affects many students in difficult situations. Under the Offer students are told that they will: “…feel [Bowdoin’s] resources behind you in whatever task you undertake.” And yet, to many Bowdoin students, the Offer was, in no way, their experience, leading to feelings of the administration not caring enough.
Luckily, after some pushback from the students, the administration took a longer look at its plans and proceeded to make adjustments that actually addressed many of the concerns students had. This was definitely a win for the Bowdoin community, and we rested happy knowing that the administration had recognized the need to make its decisions more mindfully.
Then, silence… when President Rose sent a letter describing the next steps, internationals weren’t even mentioned once, and in the town hall session, more than one hour went by before any concerns regarding internationals were addressed. Those concerns were addressed in a way that was eerily similar to the despotic #becreative and it was stunning. The administration did raise the possibility of providing an extension of the deadlines for international students (as they relied on decisions asynchronous to the College’s plan), but it also floated the idea that international students could be taking courses in their home countries. This proposal was careless in two ways: firstly, Dean of Student Affairs Janet Lohman had no problem in outsourcing the Bowdoin education the College repeatedly claimed we would still be receiving in fall 2020, and secondly, the proposal disregards the fact that one cannot just sign up to the sophomore, junior or senior year of a career without having taken prior course requirements.
These two instances of Bowdoin overlooking international students aren’t an
exception to the norm. When looking at the overall findings of a report by Jay Jihoe Yoon ’21, the following conclusions were reached when comparing Bowdoin to 12 similar institutions: 92.9% of the surveyed schools had offices and staff fully dedicated to international student services, unlike Bowdoin, which only has part-time staff for international students.
Even institutions with a smaller international student body than Bowdoin’s (137) such as Bates (132),Washington and Lee (80), Hamilton College (120), and Holy Cross (90), each had dedicated offices and full-time employees for international student services. Nine out of twelve institutions specifically referenced in Yoon’s report indicated that they offer CPT help, which Bowdoin does not provide.
All in all, the international community stands eager to work with the administration, to ensure that the pledge in the ‘From Here’ fundraising campaign holds true for everyone. The pledge says: “a promise to our students as they leave—that we will provide the skills, programming, resources, and opportunity to find that first great job and build a life of meaning.” Internationals urge students to sign the International Students’ Association (ISA) letter, and we urge the administration to start working with its international students to provide the same standard of support that they provide domestic students.
Ignacio Pérez Pérez-Hervada is a member of the Class of 2022,