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Safety, Immigration Issues Discussed at International Student Forum

 

For international students studying at Lehigh, what are the implications of the U.S. presidential transition? Will there be immediate changes to student/scholar visa status? Will the new administration affect students’ chances of getting a job after graduation?

Lehigh’s leaders, including President John Simon and Provost Pat Farrell, as well as those directly involved in the university’s counseling services, religious life and community outreach came together Tuesday at Lamberton Hall to try to answer those questions—and many more—and introduce students to the people who can be resources for them should issues arise as part of the transition.

“I think we all acknowledge that this is an uncertain time,” said Cheryl Ann Matherly, vice provost for international affairs, noting the rhetoric of a heated presidential campaign. “We are all making it a priority to speak from what we know.”

About 50 people turned out for the 90-minute discussion, with many questions submitted in advance. Concerns centered on matters related to immigration status, visa, career implications, the campus climate and personal safety.

Among those on hand to answer students’ questions were Twana L. Walker, director of advising, College of Business and Economics; Rita Jones, director of the Women’s Center; Chelsea Fullerton, director of The Pride Center for Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity; Lloyd Steffen, university chaplain; Rabbi Danielle Stillman, director of Jewish student life; Lehigh Police Chief Ed Shupp; Frank Roth, Lehigh’s general counsel; Adrienne Washington, assistant vice president of community relations at the university; Ian Birky, vice provost for student affairs; Karen Salvemini, the university's compliance officer; and Yuah Jessica Choi, a Philadelphia immigration lawyer.

“You are a part of our community,” Simon reassured the students who had gathered for the Q-and-A session, “and we are fully committed to the educational experience that we want you to have here and the careers that you want to have when you graduate.”

Farrell also assured the international students that they have the full support of the faculty.

On the issue of visas:

  • Participants told the students they do not expect any immediate changes to student/scholar visa status, nor to the filing of invitation letters for family members who want to attend students’ graduation at Lehigh; that they do not know whether there will be changes to the H1B visa program; and that there could be higher scrutiny of those coming from certain countries. However, they said, any visa-related changes would likely be subjected to lengthy review processes, with input from many interested parties.

On the issue of safety:

  • Shupp pointed out that there are 148 cameras positioned around campus and the community that feed into the police department’s emergency response system. Shupp also encouraged students to download the EmergenSee app for their phones, which provides users with immediate, direct contact to the Lehigh University Police Department.

On the issue of freedom of religion:

  • Steffen reinforced that “everybody on this campus has a Constitutional right to exercise their religious belief and to practice their religion and nobody should be interfering with that.” He acknowledged that across the country, there have been serious incidents of Islamophobia but said that there’s no place for that on the Lehigh campus. Should issues arise, he said, Lehigh police are there to protect students’ rights to practice their religion.
  • Stillman added that it’s a “great opportunity” to learn more about other religions and to build solidarity. “This is just a great time to build broader networks and broader communities amongst everyone on campus,” she said.

Chris Liang, associate professor of counseling psychology, told the students that while the university is a great resource for them, they are all also great resources for one another.

“You do not need to do this on your own,” he said. “This is a community. We are all part of this community. So if you see something happening, stand up for one another. We are all together on this.”

 

 

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