Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
November 27, 2020

Hopkins must take extra steps to support international students during reopening

By SHIZHENG TIE | November 7, 2020

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Tie won’t feel comfortable returning to the U.S. unless the University outlines comprehensive strategies to assist international students.

This week, University leadership announced plans to resume on-campus activities this spring. According to a broadcast email from University President Ronald J. Daniels, Provost Sunil Kumar and Interim Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration Mary Miller, students are allowed but not required to come back to campus for in-person classes and research, while the gym and library will reopen with adjusted, reduced occupancy. 

The reopening plan rests on the fact that students, faculty and staff have a mutual dedication to adhere to public health guidelines and keep others safe. In their email, administrators noted that so far, no known transmission has taken place in reopened research labs and no significant outbreak has occurred among the thousands of students in Baltimore.

Personally, I am overwhelmed with excitement by this news. I dream of returning to campus and returning to normalcy. I miss coconut and honey graham ice cream at the Fresh Food Cafe. I miss making friends through in-person cram sessions before a midterm. I miss running in the gym and the small soft towels. I miss all-nighters at Brody. I miss Homewood Campus. Furthermore, as a senior, I dream of an in-person Commencement where I proudly receive my hard-earned diploma. I want a proper goodbye to the years I spent at Hopkins and a formal celebration of all my hard work.

I have to admit: The plan to reopen sounds doable and safe, with twice-weekly saliva sample COVID-19 testing required of all students in Charles Village and robust use of ProDensity app to report symptoms and oversee indoor occupancy.

However, for an international student like me, there are still way too many uncertainties involved in returning to Baltimore for in-person activities. Long travel by air is like spending over 10 hours in a Petri dish. However, this is not even my greatest concern. As a Chinese STEM-major student, I’ve heard too many terrifying stories of hostility: from Chinese students detained at customs to thousands of rejected visa applications for seemingly arbitrary reasons. The Chinese consulate is closed in Houston, signaling a new level of tension escalation.

Recently, the Office of International Services (OIS) warned of a scam that targets current international students. An impostor, posing as a representative of Immigration and Customs Enforcement or the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, will demand money, sexual favors and/or items in exchange for immigration documents or a new legal status. At first glance, we may laugh at the audacity of such scams and wonder who in their right mind would fall for them. But as an international student from China, I know all too well how fear can make us act irrationally. The power dynamic between a federal officer and an international student can be exploited to manipulate victims. 

Frequent and responsive communication from international authorities like embassies and the OIS can prevent these types of situations from occurring. I’m glad Hopkins is making their international students aware of potential dangers. They must continue to do so as more of us travel back to the United States this spring.

International students face an additional layer of uncertainty and helplessness. Before I can decide whether to return to campus, I need more support from the University. I hope that when Hopkins releases its final plans in December, it includes additional resources for those of us traveling from abroad. These should include a comprehensive travel guide with tips for how to reduce chances of infection during travel and robust isolation and testing systems in place for students after landing. The University should guarantee diplomas and alternative methods of Commencement for students, regardless of how the spring 2021 semester unfolds. 

Hopkins should continue offering additional financial support and continue its discounted tuition rate for all students, in light of financial hardships still present as the pandemic wrecks the global economy and U.S. job market. 

I dream of returning to normalcy, and I hope Hopkins will enable students like me to do so. It will require a more holistic plan than what’s in place now.

Shizheng “JJ” Tie is a senior studying Environmental Engineering from Luoyang, China. She is a Senior Class Senator in the Student Government Association. 

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