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Increasing support for international students

Increasing efforts by Homeland Security to ensure national safety — including the recent arrest of a University of Idaho graduate student — has Mideastern students at Washington State University on edge.

“These students are pretty nervous . right now,” said Mary Furnari, assistant director of International Student Services, “some are even talking about the possibility of going home. We’re doing everything we can to meet with these students to help them feel they are welcome, safe and supported at WSU. Our hope is that students will stay here and complete their degrees or academic work.”

Furnari said ISS is working with several other offices and organizations, such as Student Affairs, Student Legal Services and the Koinonia House (a campus interfaith ministry) to provide additional services such as alternative housing, rides to the grocery store and shopping, and meals with local residents. International Programs also is working with the Counseling Center to provide services for concerned international students.

“My concern is we don’t feed into any hysteria. We want to make sure students are well prepared and know that we are here to help see them through this.”

ISS is developing a set of guidelines for students who might be questioned by the FBI.

“They need to know what their rights are, that they have a right to legal counsel, and should not sign any documents until they have representation,” Furnari said.

That list will also include a names and phone numbers of Moscow/Pullman attorneys who might be available on short notice if a student is contacted or questioned.

WSU currently has about 78 Mideastern and Muslim students, coming from such countries as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iran, Kuwait, Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United Arab Emirates.

Universitywide, WSU has about 1,200 international students and 500 foreign nationals including temporary faculty, visiting scientists and students taking classes at the Intensive American Language Center

International Student Services currently has a tough balancing act. It must make sure that the university is in compliance with all regulations coming from the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (formerly INS) now folded into the Department of Homeland Security as of March 1. At the same time, it is striving to support international students, help them to comply with regulations, succeed academically and feel welcome.

“So far, there have been no major problems with our students,” said Furnari. “For the most part they are in legal status” — which means they are going to school full time or part time with permission, they not working more than 20 hours per week, their program of study is accurately reflected in their documents, their registered address is current, and they are reporting when they are graduating and departing.

“Our students have regularly been going to the Spokane INS office to comply with the special registration system, and it’s going very smoothly,” she added. “It requires foreign nationals from certain countries to be photographed, fingerprinted and interviewed. This process began last fall and no one has been detained. They (INS officials) have told us that they know the majority are good kids, here to do their studies and get their degree.”

“People need to remember,” said Joanne Sellen, information/outreach coordinator, “that among the Sept. 11 terrorists, only one of the 19 terrorists entered the U.S. on a student visa. Two others applied to change to a student status. People have come to believe that many of those attackers held student visas, and that’s not true.”

Should international students choose to go home, ISS and Student Affairs has assembled a protocol to help students properly check out of classes and housing, and keep INS informed.

ISS currently is receiving phone calls and comments from community members, students, faculty and staff expressing comments from “both sides of the continuum,” she said. One side is expressing concerns that international students feel welcome and secure, while others are suspicious about ‘foreigners’.”

“International students are a real value to WSU,” Furnari said. “They bring a diversity of ideas and a world perspective that our students, faculty and university need. We live in a global society and can’t afford to be insular. To be a world-class institution we need that global perspective. We must respect differences and not jump to unwarranted conclusions. Innocent people can be implicated.

“We are doing everything we can to ensure that these students and scholars are doing what they are legally required to do.”

Currently, there is no universitywide method of tracking international student attendance on a day-to-day basis, particularly in classes with hundreds of students. However, Furnari said, many faculty and staff know who their international students, scholars and interns are and if they are not attending class.

“If someone suddenly drops off the face of the earth, we trust that faculty and staff would let us know,” Furnari said. “On the other hand, if any of our international students encounter difficulties, we want them to know they should contact International Programs and that we are here to be supportive and will help them tackle problems right away,” Furnari said.

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