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DSU administration tackles international concerns

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DICINSON - While many administrators know not all learning takes place in the classroom, they might be surprised to receive lessons from students.

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Administrators at Dickinson State University, however, hope education goes both ways.

After a group of juniors and seniors at DSU raised concerns with the international student population, DSU administrators agreed legitimate issues were brought forward. The administrators also agreed some concerns carry less weight and hope the students - and others - can come around to seeing things their way.

"It does provide a good opportunity for our students to have interaction with people of different cultures and communities; that I think is education unto itself," said Dr. Rich Brauhn, DSU vice president for academic affairs and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. "They all like to have cell phones. They all like to have jeans. They all like American movies and movie stars. It shows how small the world is. Those are intangibles you just can't put a price on. They are fortunate to have that type of opportunity."

Just because the positives outweigh the negatives for administrators does not mean, however, they think the programs are perfect.

Defining diversity

Multicultural Affairs Director Thy Yang agrees with the concerned students that perhaps diversity is being defined too narrowly. She thinks the United States students are failing to look closer, however, within those diverse groups.

"That's one of the pluses, I think, of having a lot of students from one country, because then you see more diversity within that group, and then there are less stereotypes," Yang said. "I'm glad that we have (more than) 100 Chinese students, because then you have the whole normal distribution curve."

Yang said, though, there are some concerns with too many people from one country or region. As an example, she said if the U.S. were to go to war with China or a pandemic breaks out, DSU could lose its international base from a particular country.

Yang disagreed with the students on whether one-year international students are not becoming "Blue Hawks," though.

"Because they're only here for one year, they want to make the most of their experience, so they're the ones that are going to the dances, going to the Bingo nights, are more engaged," Yang said.

DSU Executive Director of Student Life Hal Haynes said in student development, he worries about losing the students who are here for such a short period of time.

"You don't see the buy-in to being a Blue Hawk; you don't see the ability to meld into the community, because here today, gone tomorrow," Haynes said. "There may be some degree of truth in that."

He said that doesn't mean the programs that keep students here for a lesser period of time should be abandoned, but his office has to find ways for those students to feel like they're part of the university.

Haynes understands the concerns that domestic students are being overwhelmed by the increase in the international population.

"International students continue to be a minority, but at certain times and places and locations on this campus, domestic students may very well feel like they're a minority," Haynes said.

Brauhn said having all the different groups helps each group to learn from each other.

"In our situation at DSU, it's very hard to take our student body to China, so we opted to Russian and Chinese students here," Brauhn said.

Developing issues

Two concerns raised by the group of students are international students are getting away with a lot more in residence halls and have different customs from U.S. students. Resident Director Corey Michalos and Haynes say the former is absolutely not true.

"We don't catch everything. That's where some of the misperception comes from," Michalos said. "We treat everyone equally; we have to."

Haynes said with the exception of drug or alcohol violations, new students from any country get warnings for the first couple of weeks until they learn residence life policies.

"If you spend your whole life doing X, and you come here and people ask you to do B, C, D and E, it's going to take time to do that," Yang said. "I don't think we are letting it slide, but again, it's one of those issues of it takes time."

Michaolos said the residence life office holds trainings at the beginning of each semester and also conducts an in-service every other month.

"Every year on college or university campus in student development we deal with some issues with students with personal hygiene (complaints)," Haynes said. "It's not just the international students; it's domestic students too. We deal with that in a compassionate, sensitive manner."

Classroom standards

Brauhn said there is some validity to the concern that foreign students arriving late, due to visa or travel troubles, can slow down progress in the classroom.

"I do see some things in terms of...trying to make sure we get students in on time to start class, so they're not playing catch up," Brauhn said. "I think that's a concern we can work on."

Dr. Doug LaPlante, dean of the College of Education, Business and Applied Sciences, said not only do the students have to get caught up, but it can present challenges for professors who may have to adjust classroom instruction for those students.

Brauhn also said the university is working on getting foreign language dictionaries so students cannot rely on electronic devices or talking in class to get help in understanding English. He said classroom manners are also taught in a freshman seminar specifically targeted to international students.

"We are easing them (American freshmen) into college; we are easing international students into American academics," Brauhn said. "It takes awhile for these students to adjust. I think our traditional students need to understand that."

Yang and Brauhn agreed the international students generally are very bright, but should not be expected to speak like native English speakers.

"They don't lack intellectual capacity," Brauhn said. "There has to be some kind of understanding on the part of our students too. I think they've overlooked that human aspect."

Scholarship dollars

Yang compares the global awareness scholarship that international students receive to the region rates students from certain neighboring states receive.

"We can't survive unless we go outside the region," Yang said. "If we want to attract people from outside the region, we're going to have to give an incentive for coming here."

Haynes agreed the university needs help from outside the state, not only for the unique educational opportunity, but also for the economic impact.

"You take 300 residential students out of the equation, and the reality is I might be looking at closing a residence hall," Haynes said.

He said closing a residence hall translates into losing revenue dollars, which could mean the loss of programs that impact everyone on campus.

The group of students who raised concerns said they thought the multicultural affairs budget was one of the highest on campus.

Alvin Binstock, vice president for business affairs, said the multicultural affairs budget is $180,436, compared to almost a $19 million annual appropriated fund for 2008. He said the amount for the multicultural affairs is less than 1 percent of the total fund, which is far from one of the highest budgets.

Regional education

Haynes said as the educational, recreational and cultural hub for the region, the community looks to DSU for leadership in those areas.

"We do that by providing a commitment to excellence in learning and multiculturalism," Haynes said.

Haynes said in discussing things with someone from the community, he heard the comment that people from this region shouldn't be upset with all the different ethnic groups here because that's how the area began.

"We're just going through it at a different level now," Haynes said. "I can tell you when the old Germans, Russians and Norwegians settled into this area, you didn't hear a lot of English."

Haynes and the others do agree the university needs to continue to provide education on the program. In fact, Haynes and Yang agree the students should spearhead the education.

"We often talk about culture shock having four stages," Yang said. "Well, it's not just the international students that experience culture shock. Our domestic students also experience culture shock, and as a system, we're also going through a type of culture shock. We had our honeymoon period, and now we're going through our cranky, irritability stage."

She also said the burden should fall more on the domestic students to welcome international students, as DSU is the hosting university for the foreign people.

Next steps

"I think it's an ongoing discussion as we work with the changes that are taking place," LaPlante said. "It has to do with new experiences, and as we work through a change of this magnitude, you have to be open to new perspectives, and we need to continue to find ways to engage all of our students, inside the classroom and outside the classroom."

Brauhn said the education aspect is going to become more important as the world, and economy, become more global.

"They need to think about that kind of networking nationwide now," Brauhn said.

LaPlante said domestic students need to recognize that diversity reflects changes in population happening around the country.

"I think overall, we'll all be better for that experience and certainly all the new change brings challenges, and we just have to continue to keep an open dialogue and work toward positive success," LaPlante said.

While Yang applauds the students for coming forward, the education is going to take time and that's why college is four years.

"If a student says they don't want to come to DSU because there are too many international students there, well, that's like saying, 'I don't want to go to college because I have to read too much.' It's like 'I don't want to be educated. I don't want to be exposed to the world.' And college is all about being exposed," she said

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