Even the UW didn’t see this one coming

The United States have become a petri dish of serious ongoing epidemics from coronavirus to systemic racism—and now, xenophobia. Yesterday, the U.S. Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) announced changes to temporary exemptions that allowed international students on F-1 visas to take classes entirely online. SEVP basically put the kibosh on that exemption by making it impossible for international students to take a full course load online and remain in the U.S.

UPDATE ON JULY 7 AT 14:49: President Ana Mari Cauce posted a statement to her blog in response to the U.S. government’s announcement ending flexibility for international students to take online courses for autumn 2020. Read more here. ALSO: What international students need to know now about the SEVP announcement.

The Internet has been in an uproar ever since news media covered the rule change. Buzzfeed wrote a stellar analysis on what the changes mean for international students and the challenges they suddenly face. I’m not going to repeat the analysis in this post because I think it already does a great job of covering multiple angles of the situation. What I want to talk about is how the University of Washington and students have been responding about the situation, and how I think this saga might play out.

On July 6, 2020 at 19:05, UW Circle posted an initial response to the news:

Dear UW International Students, In light of USCIS press release on autumn 2020 today, we would like to let you know that we too were taken aback by this announcement and were not anticipating these new developments. ISS and other offices on campus have forwarded questions and concerns stirred by this announcement to UW Leadership and UW Federal Relations. At this time, we do not have further updates or information, but know the UW is reviewing the announced modifications and consulting experts in the field to understand and interpret these upcoming changes.  We understand that you and your family may feel anxious about these modifications and how they can impact your studies, but please be aware that these changes have not been published to the Federal Register and may not be final yet. Once we understand what these changes mean specifically for UW international students, ISS will update  their COVID-19 information page and will send email updates to all currently enrolled F1 students regarding the updates. We appreciate your patience. CIRCLE.

The fact this development was unexpected only validates concerns on the internet about the erratic behavior of the Trump Administration in regards to immigration policy. I want to point out that as of this afternoon, the rule modifications are still not set in stone, and there’s really no clear indication on how exactly this situation might impact international students at UW. With that said, a lot of students (domestic and international) are banding together to develop solutions for this predicament at the institutional level. Of course, there is the popular petition for UW to create a 1-credit face-to-face course for international students so that they may stay in the U.S. I think you should sign it; it’s ‘all hands on deck’ at this point.

Unlike petitions for coronavirus and Black Lives Matter though, students quickly realized that the UW administration is unresponsive to calls for action regarding race and equity issues. Cindy (last name not disclosed) posted in a Facebook group the same concerns. She wrote:

If any of you know or are international students in a pinch, “myplan has a course searching tool. Search for 1 credit, no prereqs, not filled, and not PCE sections. If the person…has the ability to sign up for a niche class, perhaps do so to make room in the generic classes for freshmen. Lastly, lots of professors have the ability to add capacity to their classes if a student on the waitlist can demonstrate a high enough level of interest in the class…I agree UW should offer a course, but I am not optimistic given UW’s history of not helping students in a bad situation. The best bets (from my perspective) are on the departmental level, perhaps in the Evan’s School of Public Policy or in the iSchool.”

Facebook post, June 7, 2020 11:20

The SEVP modifications not only stirred up heightened activism that has been normalized over the past few months–it instilled fear, desperation, and uncertainty for domestic and international students alike. The fact that students are more wary of getting an underwhelming institutional response from the UW shows just how much distrust is growing against the administration. Students aren’t going to wait for the UW to take action and advocate for the international student community. As students said in the Buzzfeed article, their health—and sometimes their lives—are at stake due to the erratic behaviors of the U.S. government. At which point will UW stop playing with words and take a stand for marginalized communities for once?

I thought the UW already hit rock-bottom when it came to their overall response to police brutality, but the distrust I seen students express in response to the SEVP modifications indicates the institution’s next response will be no better. Of course, I imagine there will likely be a fight for a court injunction to the modifications once they’re published. Until then, save for support from domestic students, international students are basically on their own.

Crowd-sourced resources

The following are resources for international students. I did not create these resources nor am I affiliated with the content creators in any way. Please use your best judgement when entering these spaces; do not enter these sites if you’re wanting to ‘troll’ students.

Mission “Help International Students”: course add/drop forum where undergrads can hold and “exchange” classes. https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1XV24tETgWM7Uxv_VzaD2Rw2CIEwKKy2GIDjS6w3De8g/

List of in-person classes for Fall 2020 (UW): https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/u/2/d/1y7NvaybuKh_mRdRF5Rlz68puqSm3ph_bC_WQu39NpWY/htmlview?fbclid=IwAR0u6uEh7Kgp7r9R2Bcw8TZHLqhOmqVC3TT4Wz81ukxbCVQII712qirGJR8

UW Admin create a one-credit class so international students can stay in the US: https://www.change.org/p/university-of-washington-uw-admin-create-a-one-credit-class-so-international-students-can-stay-in-the-us

UW International Student Services Office (for live updates on the institutional response): https://iss.washington.edu/travel-visas/coronavirus-information-for-f1-j1-students/

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