On Supporting International Members of Our Community

Dear Wooster Community,

One of the College of Wooster’s greatest strengths is its global community. We are extraordinarily fortunate to have students from over sixty countries studying here, as well as international staff and faculty. Our College was founded on the understanding that excellence requires many voices and perspectives. That is true today more than ever; international students, staff and faculty contribute tremendously to our mission, and they are deeply valued members of the community. These international members of our community work incredibly hard to come to Wooster, travelling far from family and friends, working in multiple languages, navigating the complex US visa and immigration system and the border closings of COVID-19, and much more. Their talent, perspective, knowledge and courage are wonderful, and they deserve to be here and to thrive.

Over the past several months, a series of limitations on both work and student visas have been enacted. These visas are crucial to those who bring their talents to businesses and other organizations in the United States, including to Wooster. On Monday, new regulations were issued from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE), which oversees the F-1 visa process through which international students come to colleges in the United States. These regulations require that international students in the United States take courses in-person or in a hybrid format. If students take only remote or online courses, their visa status would lapse and they would be required to leave the US.

This change in rules is of deep concern. The College strongly opposes it, and we are working to get it rescinded. Our College’s plans for academic work in the fall are very intentionally built to be flexible, so that we can make adjustments as needed to protect the health of students, staff and faculty. At present, we expect to have mostly in-person and hybrid courses. However, if there is a public health need to move to more fully remote teaching, this rule could put international students in Wooster in an extremely difficult situation. Furthermore, this rule is deeply problematic because it bans international students from other campuses in the US which have decided to teach most or all courses remotely, based on their local public health and campus needs.

The College is advocating both in Washington, D.C. and through the courts on behalf our international students. We are signatories to an amicus brief filed in Federal District court last night to rescind the new rules and are also working with the GLCA and Five Colleges of Ohio to contact our congressional representatives to make clear why this policy is so harmful and should be changed.

At the same time, our teams in the Dean of Students Office, International Admissions and International Student Services are supporting our international students as they make decisions in face of the new rule. At present, with most courses planned for in-person or hybrid instruction, international students at Wooster have access to the courses they need to maintain their visa status. We are seeking legal guidance on how we could best help international students if the College were to need to go to more remote teaching. One possibility that some universities are considering is to offer mini-courses in person for international students even if all other courses are remote. It is not yet clear whether this would satisfy the new visa regulations, but we are working with experts nationally to see whether this approach or other approaches would be helpful, so that we can be prepared to support and protect our international students effectively.

We stand with our international students, staff and faculty, and will continue to work vigorously to support them both here in Wooster and through national advocacy. I will keep you updated as this situation evolves. My deep thanks to Jill Munro and her team in International Student Services as well as the many others at Wooster who are working so hard to provide support and guidance through this extraordinarily challenging time.

Sincerely,

Sarah Bolton

Posted in President Writing.