University student government showcases noncitizen, immigrant stories

The campaign aims to create awareness and advocacy for noncitizen and immigrant students on campus.

Illustration by Sarah Mai

Illustration by Sarah Mai

by Samantha Hendrickson

The University of Minnesota undergraduate student government launched a storytelling showcase last month in an effort to create more awareness and advocacy for noncitizen and immigrant students on campus. 

The project, headed by the Minnesota Student Association’s Non-Citizen and Immigrant Task Force, collects the stories of noncitizen, immigrant and international students at the University and shares them on social media. The goal is to make others aware of the experiences that students from these backgrounds face on campus.

“As a woman of color, I have often felt silenced,” Arshia Hussain, current NITF chair, said in an email. “I knew that non-citizens and immigrants also felt this way and it was important to me that they also felt heard on this campus.”

Students wrote into a Google form to share their experiences as a noncitizen, immigrant or international student at the University. 

David Isaac, a freshman who plans to study chemical engineering, was drawn to the project because he wanted to find other students like him.

“I had no friends and no one to relate to … it was really a struggle for me, so I didn’t want others to feel the same way,” Isaac said. He arrived in the United States from Nigeria three years ago to join his mother and sister after spending years separated from them. 

Though Isaac is now a permanent resident, he still struggles with two major things: people not being able to understand his fluent English in a Nigerian accent and that American football is “not real football.” 

Pallavi Janiani, a senior from Jaipur, India, was inspired by her older brother to come to the United States to study. She said she saw how much he had “grown as a person” and the flexibility offered in a U.S. university environment. Janiani said she was excited by this and excited by the work opportunities the U.S. provided. 

Excited, she said, until the 2016 election and President Donald Trump’s administration. “I started feeling scared … from a citizenship standpoint,” Janiani said. 

While the fear faded a little after her first year living in the United States, the work opportunities Pallavi looked forward to did not seem to exist. 

“There are a lot of companies that I would talk to, and then it came up that I was an international student, and they would be like, ‘Sorry, can’t talk to you anymore,’” Janiani said, adding that it is difficult for international students to prove their visa status to employers. “It’s heartbreaking.”  

Marali Singaraju, who works alongside Hussain and Isaac on the task force, said that part of telling these stories is about making changes to the things Janiani and Isaac have experienced, like loneliness, unemployment and fear that they may be deported. 

Others who contributed to the storytelling project chose to remain anonymous, something that Singaraju said could stem from fear of things like Immigration and Customs Enforcement policies and law enforcement around campus. 

Though the storytelling project will continue through spring and those who have worked on it say they hope to gather more stories, the future of the project is uncertain. New MSA leadership is dissolving the task force, and Hussain said it is hard to tell what the next steps are. 

“I wanted to empower them by showcasing their stories so people on campus are aware of their experiences,” Hussain said in an email. “I would hope that other leaders take this project and find a way to share stories in a more permanent way.”