Editorial: International student groups should be safe space for all

by Daily Editorial Board

Student groups are an important part of college life. For many students, they are a place to find a sense of purpose and community.  International student groups are especially valuable because a significant portion of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities undergraduate student body is from another country — 9.2 percent, as of 2015. Living in a foreign country can be exciting, but also challenging, and these groups become a space for students who are far from their own homes to feel more at home on campus.

While many groups promote open entry, some are more exclusionary. There are students who have reported feeling like they don’t fully belong in their group. Students who have a partial or distant claim to their heritage may not be entirely accepted into those particular international groups.

While it would seem that including people of all backgrounds in every group would be something positive, it can also cause internal anxiety and conflict. As these groups are meant to be a safe space for some students, it’s understandable that allowing members from other backgrounds could feel like an invasion.

In some cases, like that of Madison Koch — who holds an executive position on the board of the Japanese club — this was not an issue. Koch articulated that though, as someone who is not herself Japanese, she felt a bit nervous upon entering the Asian Student Union’s room for the first time, she has now learned the group recruits based on passion and motivation rather than nationality. Members in the group, and many other groups on campus, do their best to stay true to their group’s mission, doing so by spreading cross cultural-awareness through interaction with all students.

Creating an open discussion with those that might not fit the traditional demographics of these international groups is a worthwhile endeavor. As in the case of the Japanese student group, bringing non-Japanese students into the fold can foster an appreciation and understanding of different cultures. This leads to a stronger sense of unity within the community here at the University, making connections that diversity in the lecture hall alone cannot.

President Trump’s recent actions against immigrants, including his attempt to reduce the number of H1B visas, have had a direct impact on international students here at the University. Now, more than ever, the rest of us need to show them support and solidarity. There is a learning experience to be had in entering a cultural environment that is not your own, and international student groups provide the chance to do so, and make the University a more inclusive community.