AUBURN, Ala. – Typically, international students are discussed in the context of adding diversity to the United States higher education landscape. However, equally important, are substantive dialogues on how other facets of international students’ identities, including race and the dynamics of intersectionality, shape their perspectives and experiences as they navigate university campuses and American society. The latest Window to Your World seminar, hosted by the Auburn University International Cultural Center in the Office of International Programs, sought to increase understanding of how international students cope and achieve academic success through an American prism of race and ethnicity.
"Finding My Place: International Students and Race Relations in the U.S." brought domestic and international students together to discuss differing perceptions and experiences with race in their home countries, within the Auburn community and in the U.S. The overall goal was to recommend action-oriented strategies towards engagement, inclusion and belonging for all. The student-led seminar was moderated by Molly Boudreaux, Student Government Association’s assistant vice president for assessment, inclusion and diversity.
"I am incredibly honored to have been part of such an impactful discussion," said Boudreaux. "It was enlightening to hear from different student leaders on campus and discuss the intersectionality in their lives and in their work. I hope our takeaways can lead to continued collaboration and action to empower students of all backgrounds."
The contributing student panelists were Jediael Fraser, a senior in software engineering and a Guyanese immigrant; Syed Hassan Raza Shah, a Pakistani doctoral student studying aerospace engineering; Rafael Santos, a Venezuelan-Portuguese descendent majoring in business-marketing and president of the International Student Organization; Chidinma Lucy Odili, a junior majoring in chemistry and biochemistry and vice president for Student Affairs of the Graduate Student Council; and Ishwor Poudel, a Nepalese doctoral student and graduate teaching assistant studying pharmaceutical sciences.
During the lively discussion, the panelists advocated for more programs and greater involvement in current programs that encourage diverse student engagement, inclusion and belonging, and emphasized the importance of investing in international student organizations at Auburn so that their cultural perspectives and experiences can be showcased. They professed a desire to see an increase in international student enrollment and advised international students that attend college in the U.S. to have an open mind about the complex and fragile cultural components of the country. One of the panelists, Fraser, even emphasized the direct impact international students can have in the fight for racial equity in the U.S.
Overall, the panelists and student participants praised the International Cultural Center for hosting an event that highlighted the challenges international students face, and for encouraging and brainstorming actionable steps to address these challenges. At the end of the seminar, Adeola Fayemi, diversity and inclusion manager for the International Cultural Center, expressed her appreciation to the student leaders and participants for their honesty and authenticity, and assured them that the center would continue to provide programming that engages international students and faculty.
"The International Cultural Center seeks to educate the Auburn Family and contribute to campus internationalization by ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to engage in conversations about challenging worldwide issues," Fayemi said. "The center also fosters quality interaction and social inclusion between international and domestic students, enriches campus faculty and curriculum through co-curricular activities, and leverages the strengths, assets and cultural resources that international students bring to campus."
For more information on the Office of International Programs and its diverse collection of international programming and events, visit www.auburn.edu/international.
(Written by Kalani Long)