Discrimination is the act of unfairly treating someone, or a group of people, based on the category to which they belong rather than on the basis that they deserve such treatment. The unfair treatment may be based on age, race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, political affiliation, sexual orientation, marital status, height, size, sex, mental ability and physical ability. It involves treating other people with prejudice. Discrimination limits opportunities for individuals. Discrimination is an injurious behavior and should be discouraged in any way. The purpose of this paper is to study discrimination in the United States, particularly discrimination against international students. It is worthwhile noting that immigration into America has taken precedence as many people across the globe have sought better academic facilities and, thus, opportunities in the US. Historically, the first major wave of immigration to the United States lasted until the early 1800. This occurred during the early decades of formation of the United States when labor was needed during the gold rush period. The second wave of immigration took place from the 1820s to the 1870s. During this period, over 7 million foreigners entered the United States. Before the third wave of immigration, the U.S started to become alarmed by the growing number of immigrants.
In this regard therefore, it is the purpose of this paper to study discrimination of international students in the US. The paper seeks to identify some of the causes of discrimination levelled against international students, its effects and consequently try to chart a way forward for the alleviation of this issue. It is the view expressed in this paper that the US does not have concrete legislation that provides for equal opportunities for residents and non-residents of America and as such been a catalyst to some of the problems currently being faced by international students.
International students in the United States are faced with a unique type of discrimination. These international students are discriminated based on their foreign nationality and their non-American origin. Discrimination of international students is widespread across all institutions of learning in the United States. As part of being a foreign national, the international students have a different race, ethnicity and religious affiliation compared to the natives. They also have different accents (Met, 36-50) and physical characteristics from those of the Native American students.
Some American students feel that allowing many international students into American institutions of learning is a cause for alarm. The international students are blamed for the increase in cases of violence in training institutions (Hanassab, 7-16). The international students are also blamed for the rise in the incidence of drug abuse and related deaths. Hanassab adds that “international students are constantly being targeted by the local community and fellow students for bringing such vices to the United States of America”. For example, my friends and I suffered a great deal due to our accent as we could not pronounce certain English words appropriately. Many students would laugh at our speech and considering a learning environment which requires constant physical and verbal interaction, we often felt stigmatized. This, as an effect, brought down our performance as well as our social outlook. Our colleagues were ignorant of the fact that we came from different demographic backgrounds and, therefore, our speech was somewhat influenced by our native languages.
Each day thousands of discriminatory messages and comments are posted in the social network platforms (Lee, 381-409). These include Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and MySpace. Lee points out that “some print media, especially student’s newspaper, have also been used to propagate the discriminatory messages. The Kansas university students’ newspaper was quoted as having argued that the American taxpayer’s money ‘was not supposed to be used on foreigners’” (383). This included the Iraqi, Pakistani, the Iranian and Turkish students. The newspaper based their argument on the fact that these students were likely to be enemies of the state in the future. All these discriminatory sentiments are directed towards the international students’ community. The international students are stereotyped with regard to their accents and their culture. This is a reflection of the temperament of the American society towards foreigners in general (Hanassab, 7-16). The discrimination is expressed in the form of verbal abuse, social neglect and in some extreme cases physical abuse. The discrimination experienced is subjected to the international students by the faculty of the learning institutions, the students, the governance system and the community off campus.
Every single day, international students in the United States are faced with increasing levels of discrimination. Since the 9/11 attack, international students have continually experienced difficulties through the way they are treated by their fellow students and the administration as foreign students. The entry of a new international student into the United States is quite a challenge (Lee, 381-409). For example, in numerous occasions, I have been subjected to this form of discrimination in stores and other places of business. On one occasion, when I made a call to one of the local enterprises, the attendant failed to answer some of my inquiries and instead remained silent till I hung up. Others did hang up once they noticed my accent. This is one of the areas where international students face a high degree of discrimination. Going past the immigration officials when gaining entry into the United States, is usually a daunting task for many international students. One policy of the U.S. immigration that has been termed as discriminatory is the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) program.
SEVIS is an electronic database for tracking and managing foreign students and foreign exchange visitors. It was established by the federal government through homeland security. The main aim of this system was to help to stop terrorism. This was after the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attack on the American soil. Most of the suspected terrorists were individuals who had gained entry to the United States as international students, but later dropped their studies and went underground. Such students reappeared during such terrorist attacks. There was thus a need to monitor foreign students in order to prevent future terrorist attacks.
The intentions of the system were noble. It was meant for the benefits of all Americans. However, the implementation of the SEVIS program was faulty. A surveillance fee of $50-$200 per semester was imposed on all international students. This was met with a lot of opposition and criticism. The fee was termed as discriminatory, (Hurtado, 239-269) since it only targeted students of foreign nationality. In addition to the fee, the program imposed a mandatory minimum number of semester hours that were required by a foreign student to remain in the United States. This limited the amount of free time that the foreign students had for other activities e.g. a part-time job. As a result, the ability of foreign students to get employment during their stay in the United States was also hampered.
Another federal policy that contributes to discrimination of international students is the fact that they are not allowed to own social security numbers. As a result, the students find it difficult to obtain services such as a driving license, insurance or bank account. When accessing services that do not necessarily require a social security number, the students are also faced with difficulties (Kohlberg, 630-646). These services include healthcare and purchase of a mobile phone. Since the official manning these points of sale terminals does not have the correct information, the international student will be discriminated and psychologically harassed if they do not have a social security number.
Another form of discrimination towards international student is by the faculty. Some teachers pose derogatory remarks about the foreign facial appearance of some international students (Hanassab, 7-16). For example, in isolated cases African students are referred to as monkeys by some members of the faculty in some learning institutions. Some international students are also asked from time to time to do additional orientation courses even though they may be fully conversant with the particular field (Garcia, 118-136. Some lecturers also ignored the international students in the class by not involving them in discussions (Hurtado, 239-269). They also refuse to answer their questions in class or ignore them all together. This form of discrimination also motivates the other students to propagate this discrimination. This can be attributed to the fact that most students regard the faculty as their role models.
Other lecturers do not bother to callout the names of international students correctly. Some offhand remarks by the lecturers during lessons about the countries of the foreign students are discriminatory. These comments make the students feel rejected and not worthy. The stereotyping eats into their self-esteem and may contribute to poor academic performance of these students. The discrimination by the lecturers may also be in the form of demeaning remarks about the religion of the students. The groups of students who report the highest incidence of this form of discrimination are the Muslims Asians and Africans (Hurtado, 239-269).
International students also face discrimination in their interaction with the other students (Hurtado, 239-269). The students may be discriminated due to their foreign accents (Met, 36-50). Those students who do not speak the host language with fluency are always segregated and are differentially treated (Tinto, 599-623). The other students usually make fun of their foreign accents. This poses a difficulty to the students when forming relations with other students on the learning institutions. It also affects their ability to interact with the other students in extracurricular activities.
The Native American students may also discriminate against the international students based on their physical features (Tinto, 599-623). For example, some students pull the eyelids with fingers to mimic the facial morphology of many Asian students. Tinto adds that “the discrimination may be shown through verbal abuse and even physical abuse” (610). During my high school years, I witnessed many cases of international students being sneered at and being physically bullied by others. Their belongings were vandalized, and they were frustrated and humiliated on many occasions in the presence of other students. This greatly affected their self-esteem and contributed to their poor academic performance. The discrimination is also fueled by the teachers. When such cases of bullying, intimidation and discrimination are reported to the school administration, the response is adamant and delayed. Sometimes there is no response at all and no measures are taken to punish the perpetrators of such discrimination.
The community outside the academic institution may also discriminate against the international students. They may direct negative discriminatory comments towards their dressing and physical appearance. The international students experience this discrimination in their encounter with the local people. Such local people may be the landlords when the students are trying to get accommodation. They can also be patrons in a local bar or customers in a local restaurant. When an international student walks in, he is met with unfriendly stares. The international students are also verbally abused and intimidated when using public means of transport. This greatly affects the ability of the student to interact with the natives. As a result, the international students will remain segregated in groups based on their nationality. They rarely interact with anybody outside these social circles.
The law enforcement agencies are also contributors to discrimination towards international student discrimination (Hanassab, 7-16; Kohlberg, 630). This form of discrimination is usually directed towards foreigners stereotyped to be criminals. The students from the Middle East are often victimized as being terrorists. They are usually the first suspect in any case involving terrorism. In isolated cases, harassment by airport officials has been reported by students from the Middle East. Russian students are always victimized as being affiliated to the mafia. The Cuban and Mexican students are stereotyped as drug traffickers. Such discrimination and harassment gives these students a negative perception of the United States.
Effects of Discrimination
The effects of discrimination of international students in the United States of America are grave, harmful and damaging. The major effect of discrimination is poor academic performance. When the lecturers, fellow students and the faculty discriminate against the international student, the student becomes isolated. Without this much needed cooperation, the student has a hard time navigating through the coursework. There are no chances for discussions and the questions the student asks in class are not given much attention. As a result, the academic life of the student suffers poor performance.
Another effect of the discrimination against foreign students is emotional. The student is likely to be highly depressed. The student also suffers low self-esteem. This is from the negative comments by the fellow students and the local community. The student usually feels dejected by these comments. These negative sentiments also affect the ability of the international students to interact with other people. This is because they live in fear of being prejudiced. This isolation leads to further depression.
Another result of the discrimination is a high rate of dropout among the international students. Discrimination in a learning institution makes it a living hell. The international students find it hard to cope with the hostile environment. They are less motivated to handle day to day learning activities. The discriminated people always feel out of place. An environment of fear and intimidation is fostered by the discrimination. Coupled with poor academic performance, this leads to the students dropping out of school.
Discrimination in learning institutions towards foreign student also fuels hatred crime. The discriminated student harbors a lot of anger for those who discriminate towards them. The anger and resentment build up within the students. They are constantly in need of revenge for the unfair treatment. If such a student does not seek psychological help, he/she may vent out the anger through violent acts. The violent acts may inflict harm to the student or to the perpetrator of the discrimination. The violence can also come from the discriminating party. Since the international students are a minority population in any learning institution, they are often subject to physical bullying from the native students. In some cases, the native students’ gangs extort money in the form of a protection fee in order to ensure that such students are not harassed. If the international students fail to raise the sum, they face physical harassment.
Solutions to Discrimination
Solving the menace of discrimination against international students in the United States is a collective affair (Hanassab, 7-16). All stakeholders in the education sector should work together to make discrimination stop. The first thing that can be done by the administration to prevent discrimination is instituting a policy to discourage discrimination of international students (Leong, 25-66). Such a policy should be implemented together with appropriate disciplinary mechanism to punish all those who discriminate on others based on their nationality. This policy will cover all players including the students, the lecturers and other workers in the faculty. This ensures that all facets of the problem have been addressed. Addressing the problem from these quarters will help to curb it and also discourage its practice.
The second solution to discrimination is investing in the training on ethics and professional practice to all those who interact with and provide services to the international students (Leong, 25-66). “Some of these individuals do not intentionally discriminate against the international students. It is their insensitivity that usually comes out as discrimination” (Leong, 25-66). Efficient training on the way they should handle international student can help to get rid of discrimination in the American institutions of learning. The training will also improve the efficiency of the services provided by the respective departments of the institutions (Garcia, 118-136).
The third solution to the problem of discrimination against international students in the United States is instituting well-tailored orientation programs for all international students. The purpose of such programs will be bringing the students up to speed with the expectations of the new culture that they will be exposed to in America. Support groups can also be incorporated into the orientation model. This way the elder international students can use the forum to share their firsthand experience with the new international students. This way, they can equip them with tips on how to cope with the new culture and avoid discrimination (Hanassab, 7-16).
Lastly, there is a need to create awareness throughout the whole learning institution community on the evils of discrimination against international students. The students should be educated on the importance of cohesion and positive co-existence (Garcia, 118-136). The need for embracing differences should be encouraged. It is this diversity that makes the human race beautiful and superior compared to all other species. The native students should be encouraged to learn from the international students rather than marginalize them. This will reverse the discrimination and imprint a spirit of togetherness throughout the learning institution.
In conclusion therefore, it is clear that discrimination, in general, is rampant within the United States. The weight of this prejudice is felt even more for international students who undergo different forms of discrimination based on their accent, color and demographic background. Some of us have been labeled terrorists, opportunists, drug traffickers, and violent, among others, based on our difference. This in turn has affected our performance in schools as well as our chances of acquiring competitive jobs in the US. From the discussion above, we can clearly assert that a lot needs to be done in terms of legislation to safeguard immigrants in general, and as such, has failed.
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