The Georgetown University Student Association Senate voiced support for a growing petition that pushes for increased academic and logistical accommodations for international students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Georgetown international students created a petition May 19, calling for more university support and greater inclusion in policy-making discussions. The petition, spearheaded by international students Ashanee Kottage (SFS ’22) and Felipe Lobo Koerich (SFS ’21), outlines the challenges facing international students with regard to both virtual learning and travel to the United States and urges the university to consider these challenges when implementing new policies. The petition has secured more support in the past week, garnering a total of 310 signatures from students, faculty, organizations and alumni as of May 30.
The petition advocates four main demands: the inclusion of international student representatives in university discussions about pandemic policy, improved asynchronous learning options for students in different time zones, increased logistical and immigration support, and additional aid and tuition reduction for international students experiencing financial burdens.
Previous university policies in response to the pandemic have favored domestic students, failing to factor in the unique situations of students residing abroad, according to the petition.
“University policies privilege domestic students, often requiring international students to take it upon ourselves to apply them to us,” the petition reads. “University policies from March largely ignored international students and the specific challenges we faced in packing up our lives and returning to our permanent addresses at a moment’s notice, which for us meant packing alone and crossing volatile borders or risking being locked out.”
After being forced off-campus in March, Lobo Koerich had to coordinate a trip home to his native Brazil in addition to navigating the more common stresses of a sudden move.
“The greatest challenge I faced as an international student was having to move out on a very tight deadline, effectively by myself with minimal university support,” Lobo Koerich wrote in an email to The Hoya. “I had to scramble to figure out storage options for the next many months that were affordable, knowing I might not be back for possibly a year. I had to pack up my entire room within days, book a flight home last minute at great expense and then move up that flight because airlines started cancelling service to Brazil and rumours started flying around about a U.S. lockdown or termination of international travel.”
Because the university’s policies often overlook the needs of international students, administrators must incorporate international student feedback, according to Lobo Koerich.
“I think it is critical that the University consult directly with international students and seek their inputs and perspectives on issues relating to COVID-19 and the fall,” Lobo Koerich wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We have unique and specific concerns that, for the most part, do not apply to domestic students and cannot be well represented by the student leaders that the University most often consults. While we appreciate deeply their support and efforts, at the end of the day, only international students can best represent international students and our concerns.”
Georgetown has not yet made an official decision on whether students will be returning to campus in the fall. University officials discussed possible plans for the fall semester with several student representatives from GUSA on May 21, but declined to confirm any details.
The university is keeping international students in mind during policy deliberations, according to a university spokesperson.
“We understand that the pandemic has put additional strain on our international students, and as we plan for the ongoing impacts of this crisis on our university, we do so with the needs of our vibrant international community in mind,” the spokesperson wrote in an email to The Hoya.
In addition to voicing support for a Class of 2024 letter demanding equitable COVID-19 policies, the GUSA Senate unanimously passed a resolution supporting the petition’s demands during their meeting May 24.
The resolution aims to promote the interests of international students and to encourage the university to include international students in the conversation about fall plans, according to GUSA Senator Charlie Wang (SFS ’22), who co-sponsored the resolution.
“The purpose of the resolution is to make sure that the international student body, who makes up a significant amount of the student body as well as contributing a large portion of the school’s revenue, should be represented as fairly as the domestic students during this pandemic,” Wang wrote in an email to The Hoya. “It is important for us to make sure that the international study body’s voice can be heard in the decision-making process of the school.
The GUSA Senate also plans to sign onto the petition itself, according to GUSA Senator Julio Salmeron-Perla (SFS ’22), who introduced the legislation.
“In addition to supporting the demands that the letter by the international students wrote, in the next few days, the Student Senate will be signing on to their letter to emphasize to the administration how serious the concerns of these students are,” Salmeron-Perla wrote in an email to The Hoya.