Note: The following article is not an official statement of the Academic Senate for California Community
Colleges. The article is intended to engender discussion and consideration by local colleges.
Immigrant, international, and refugee students continue to experience xenophobia and marginality living in the United States and attending community college. Xenophobia is a form of racism that takes place when someone carries hostility and hatred against people from other countries. The result of xenophobia is that immigrant, international, and refugee students feel invalidated and unwelcomed. As the United States experiences the worldwide pandemic of Covid-19, many Asian Pacific Islander students experience the spread of overt racism. Indeed, xenophobia towards immigrant, international, and refugee students is not a new phenomenon. Other racialized and religious groups who have also experienced marginalization include Afghan, Iranian, Somalian, Muslim, and Arab—including Syrian, Jordanian, Palestinian, Iraqi, Egyptian, Kuwaiti, Lebanese, Libyan, and others—students, due to international affairs involving the United States. Sadly, many more groups of immigrant, international, and refugee communities continue to experience racial marginalization in the United States. Community college educators and leaders should be prepared to dispel assumptions and stereotypes about these groups. Educators and leaders need to dismantle the systemic barriers immigrant, international, and refugee students are confronted with on their campuses (Teranishi, et al., 2011).
The distinction between immigrant, international, and refugee students is important. While immigrant students arrive in the United States from other countries, their study time is not restricted. In contrast, international students are on F-1 visa status, which allows them to enter the United States as full-time students as long as they attend an accredited college or university and are of non-resident standing. While immigrants choose to move to another country, refugees are forced to flee due to persecution, ecological disasters, political unrest, criminal warfare, and other situations. The barriers immigrant, international, and refugee students face are also important to learn and address. For example, international students cannot seek employment while studying in the United States, whereas immigrant and refugee students may not have authorized legal status to work. Immigrant, international, and refugee students may experience a multiplicity of marginalization for being foreign-born, racially-minoritized, an English language learner, undocumented, first-generation, and targeted for negative religious sentiment proposed by others. Perhaps for these reasons, “immigrant college students are at higher risk of dropping out of college than native-born students” (Teranishi et al., 2011, p. 156). For many immigrant students who speak minimal English, the barrier of finding immediate work and navigating the community college system remains a great challenge. With the increase in inflation and cost of living, many immigrant, international, and refugee students struggle to make ends meet and live comfortably in the United States (Sadat, 2019).
Due to the proliferation and influx of immigrants in the United States, student populations in community colleges have indeed diversified (Sadat, 2019). To support immigrant, international, and refugee students, community colleges should consider providing professional development workshops that focus on competency training with information about multiracial, multiethnic, and multicultural communities. This practice will support eradicating xenophobia, implicit bias, explicit bias, stereotypes, racial microaggressions, and assumptions people have about immigrant, international, and refugee students on their campuses and in their classrooms. Critical race theory scholars have alluded to the immensity of challenging communities that are aiming to radicalize racist ideologies (Yosso et al., 2009). To be an antiracist and liberator, one must call out the perpetuation of colonialism, imperialism, racist ideologies, and praxis in the education system.
Community college educators must continue to challenge deficit-minded thinking and practices and instead, hone in on equity-minded approaches to serving immigrant, international, and refugee students. Research by Semenow (2008) posited the negative impact of cultural encapsulation in curriculum. Cultural encapsulation is when one lacks knowledge of cultural backgrounds and fails to evaluate one’s own bias. As a result of cultural encapsulation in teaching, racism continues by invalidating global countries other than the United States. For many reasons, community colleges must critically examine the multifaceted perspectives and lived experiences of immigrant, international, and refugee students on their campuses. In addition, increasing study abroad opportunities and programs will immerse faculty and students in diversity and multicultural awareness (Boggs & McPhail, 2016). Research by McNair et al. (2020) suggested that to achieve an equity-minded campus culture, educators must critically reflect and examine policies, practices, and structures that perpetuate racial inequities. Thus, faculty must challenge deficit-mindedness and instead reflect on equity-minded and antiracist practices to welcome, accept, understand, engage, and continuously support immigrant, international, and refugee students holistically throughout their college campuses.
Some qualitative questions to consider when trying to understand the phenomenology of immigrant, international, and refugee students include the following:
- What are the experiences of immigrant, international, and refugee students in their transition to community college?
- What personal barriers impact immigrant, international, and refugee students?
- What societal barriers impact immigrant, international, and refugee students?
- What key sources of support have enabled immigrant, international, and refugee students to transition successfully to achieve academic and personal goal completion?
For transformational change to happen, educators and leaders need to focus on equity in elevating immigrant, international, and refugee students. The following are some equityminded praxis colleges can immediately adopt to support these students:
- Outreaching to immigrant, international, and refugee communities about opportunities to attend community college.
- Providing ongoing professional development trainings focusing on competencies regarding multiracial, multiethnic, and multicultural communities. Professional development trainings should also include training employees—staff, faculty, and administration—on fostering inclusivity for immigrant, international, and refugee students on campus.
- Implementing global and world cultural perspectives in pedagogy and student learning outcomes.
- Creating a mentorship program for immigrant, international, and refugee students.
- Sharing testimonials from former immigrant, international, and refugee students about their experience navigating the community college system.
- Ensuring marketing materials and supportive services are translated into global languages.
- Displaying images around campus that represent immigrant, international, and refugee students.
- Ensuring that the college’s disaggregated data categorizes immigrant, international, and refugee students in accurate racial and ethnic categories as opposed to being aggregated in wrong and larger groupings.
- Obtaining software that allows faculty to learn how to pronounce students’ names accurately.
- Providing scholarships and grants for immigrant, international, and refugee students.
- Presenting career planning workshops in diverse languages.
- Having designated spaces on campus and online opportunities for immigrant, international, and refugee students to feel engaged in community building and group counseling opportunities.
- Having behavioral health counseling available and ensuring students are aware of this free service.
- Having celebratory events for students on campus and online at the end of each academic semester. These events can include international day and various world cultural celebrations.
- Creating racial and cultural affinity groups on campus for students and employees.
- Creating a strong alumni association that connects to international students worldwide.
- Creating a welcome packet with a comprehensive resources guide. This packet may include services on and off campus, such as information on food pantries, housing, and immigration services.
In the words of Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
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