Allow me to admit a bias: I believe the doors to international education ought to be open to any student from any country who wishes to study anywhere around the world. The young men and women who leave their homelands become unofficial ambassadors; they have a tremendous opportunity to showcase some of the best attributes of their country. And the nation in which those students choose to study also benefits because it will learn just a little bit more about a foreign land.
In my more than two decades in higher education, I have been enriched by students from China, Germany, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and many other nations who have told me about the people and places in the country they call home. I consider myself honored whenever one of them invites my family and me to share a meal they cook or whenever they accept an invitation to eat at our home.
The moments of friendship and learning that take place outside the classrooms and labs are as important to the study abroad experience as are the lectures and discussions that take place inside them. International education, wherever it takes place, develops global citizens, men and women who understand that cooperation and friendship, not conflict and friction, must define the twenty-first century world they will soon lead.
Unfortunately, the United States – which has been the beacon of international education for decades – remains convinced that certain Chinese students and researchers ought to be denied entry into the country or expelled if they are already here.
How embarrassing to the student, who must explain to his or her family and friends that they cannot learn in the United States, or to the researcher, who could see years of academic work basically thrown in the trash. And do not forget what an embarrassment all of this is to the U.S. itself, which is deliberately ignoring one of the central tenets of its existence: opening its doors to people from all over the world.
You probably already are aware that roughly 500 Chinese students recently wrote a letter to the Chinese embassy in Washington stating that their education visas had been rejected, meaning they would have no chance to continue their educational journey in a nation that constantly announces its strong belief in a host of personal freedoms. Justifiably, the Chinese foreign ministry rebuked the U.S. for the decision. The ministry’s spokesperson considered this most recent ban an “evil legacy” from the dark period in American history known as the Donald Trump presidency. The spokesperson is absolutely right.
In fact, the decision to reject these young men and women is just the latest example of the U.S. choosing to punish Chinese students, a decision that began when Trump was president of the United States.
In May 2020, the Trump administration slammed the door on students seeking postgraduate opportunities in the U.S. if they had any assumed previous connection to the Chinese military. A few months later, the White House revoked about 1,000 more visas, all of them attached to students who “might have an association with the Chinese military”. The Trump administration classified as “high risk” any student who could have such a link. Mind you, these students had broken no U.S. law and they had violated no policy associated with the university where they had planned to study. Their revoked education visas were based solely on who they might know.
That is not what America should stand for.
Students study at a library of Columbia University in New York, the United States, on Dec. 7, 2019. (Photo/Xinhua)
NPR reported last fall that a non-stop effort at identifying and expelling Chinese students and researchers, some of whom had spent years in the United States, with potentially questionable backgrounds was underway. According to NPR, the Federal Bureau of Investigation was heavily engaged in efforts at combating economic espionage; the National Institutes of Health was examining well over one hundred circumstances in which scientists had not reported receiving financial support from a government agency in their homeland; and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency was carefully screening researchers who were returning to China.
It is important to remind you that some of the Chinese citizens being kicked out of the United States have been here for years; they have built up a network of personal and professional contacts and have learned from and worked alongside some of the smartest educators anywhere in the world.
Their evictions are a byproduct of irrational fear and an unceasing narrative told by the political and media elite that claims China and its people are not to be trusted. Combine this ridiculous decision to kick out students and scholars with recent federal legislation targeting China, and those words said by Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian echo even more loudly: an “evil legacy” of ideas created to undercut international education, damage the dreams of Chinese students and denial of fundamental American values.
It is incumbent upon those of us who are in higher education to constantly remind national politicians and the media who too often comply with their beliefs that America’s college and university classrooms and labs must always remain open to any student no matter the country he or she calls home. Remaining silent is not an option.