Dozens of flags representing students from diverse countries, including China, Nepal, France and Peru, encircle Jensen Dining Hall. The flags seem to embrace the Wilson community. However, the gap between international students and American students is wide. Students sit at their own tables, locked into their own unchanging groups.
Sandrine Berre, French Fulbright Teaching Asst. describes the scene in the dining hall, "Each group is like an entity. It may be because they have common points but it may be because they are afraid" of people who are different. As Berre says this clear delineation can have adverse consequences. These consequences can include a trend towards xenophobia. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines xenophobia as "the fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign."
Xenophobia on Wilson's Campus
An anonymous email survey sent to all College for Women and Adult Degree Program students between Wed. May 5 and Wed. May 12, gauged students responses on the issue of xenophobia at Wilson. Students representing all the diverse populations on campus were asked to answer. Of the 61 respondents, sixty-three percent believed that xenophobia was not an issue on campus. However, thirty-one percent of respondents said that they had experienced xenophobia on campus. The survey seemed to point out a discrepancy between the beliefs of different groups. While most students believe that xenophobia is not happening, others say that they are experiencing xenophobia.
How Students Feel About Xenophobia
Thirteen students in all described how they had seen the effects of xenophobia at Wilson. One student wrote, "My culture seem[s] to be a problem for some…I think this attitude was a reaction to the unknown, a new element that they have never been acquainted with. Xenophobia is also a way to protect yourself from what seems dangerous..." Another responded, "Students often avoid interaction such as making eye contact or speaking to me." One quote summed up the thoughts of many respondents, "One American student told me once that she thought that the international students were disrespectful and thought badly of American students. I think that the American student was scared to get to know the international students and she rationalized it to be the international students fault."
Most students who were interviewed said they felt that xenophobia or issues related to discrimination happened because of a misunderstanding between cultures. Iva Chitrakar '13, from Nepal, said, "I don't think that people do it intentionally. It is not discrimination. It is ignorance." Julie Raulli, Assoc. Prof. of Sociology said, "It is often unintentional…visiting students think they would be included [in campus activities] but [often] they were not, and they felt hyper-excluded." And while most students would not call what is happening xenophobia, everyone agreed that there is a clear separation between groups on both sides.
What Can Make a Change at Wilson?
Alaina Hofer '11 said, "One of the most important things the administration can do is speak about foreign students and embrace the differences on campus. Also have students get together, all students, to speak about their differences or traditions." This might be a way to form a connection between international and American students. In Bob H. Suzuki's article "Revisiting the Model Minority," published in the April 2002 edition of the journal in New Directions for Student Services, he brings up the importance of such workshops on diversity and multiculturalism, stating they often help change behaviors to groups of people slowly. Allowing students to understand other cultures more might lessen the xenophobia on campus.
Wilson stresses the importance of diversity in all literature and unless the institution as a whole strives to make changes, it may not become diverse. Diversity is important for the future of many students. Aaron Thompson, at US News and World Report, lists eight ways that students can excel because of diverse institutions. He writes, diversity, expands worldliness, enhances social development, prepares students for future career success, prepares students for work in a global society, increase knowledge bases, promotes creative thinking, enhances self-awareness and enriches multiple perspectives.
These are all positive qualities and Wilson should begin to promote activities that allow students to mix with each other. These activities would allow students to work with other students they may not know. Allowing students to work with those they do not know can foster friendships and connections. The ideas are limitless, such as apple picking at a local orchard—Wilson just needs to take a step in that direction.