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‘It feels like we are afterthoughts’: First-year international students forced to defer acceptance into University

| Saturday, July 11, 2020

Facing visa rejections, incoming Notre Dame first-year international students assumed they would be able to attend online classes for their first semester. This week, they were told they would have to defer a year instead. 

On July 7, Notre Dame added an update to their “Return to Campus” page for this fall. Nestled between updates on research labs and policies for leaves of absence was a sentence that made first-year international students take notice.

Given the University’s emphasis on holistic formation, fully remote instruction will not be offered to first-year undergraduate students, but these students will be able to defer their matriculation until fall 2021,” the website said.

For international first-year students — with a great majority unable to obtain visas right now due to the COVID-19 pandemic — this meant they would be forced to put off their education for a year. This blurb on the website was the first they heard about the policy.

Arav Arora, a first-year student coming to Notre Dame from India, said it’s highly unlikely that most of the first-year international students will be able to obtain a visa. He first discovered he may not be able to attend school this year from a screenshot in the international student’s group chat. 

“Most visa offices in whichever country haven’t started processing visas,” Arora said. “And a lot of us applied for emergency visas which they have, which is permitted as long as your start date is within the next 60 days. But every single emergency visa request was rejected. So we’re all waiting for the consulates to reopen so that they can either contact them or reschedule your appointment for another time. But again, nothing is reopened.”

Arora said even if his visa application was approved, finding flights that would get him to Notre Dame by Aug. 1 — the date the University requests international first-years to be on campus — would be extremely difficult. 

Many students do not want to defer their matriculation for a year, Arora said. 

“That’s not something which a lot of students are comfortable with — deferring enrollment for an entire year. Twelve months, what are we supposed to do? Because we can’t leave the house. Everything is shut down. There is a pandemic going on,” he said. “We can’t leave the house so there’s nothing constructive we can do. And they haven’t allowed us to pursue our first semester online. We’re stuck.”

Arora, along with many of his peers, wishes the University would allow them to start their time at Notre Dame online or allow them to travel to campus to start their year in the spring semester.

A portion of students, aside from first-year international students, will be taking courses online for the upcoming semester. 

Arora said although the University is likely making the decision to allow international students to experience a Welcome Weekend on campus, he would have liked to be given a choice. 

“I think there are three main alternatives that they could have provided us.” Arora said. “One is an online semester; the entirety of the first semester could be online. Then we can rejoin again in the spring semester. Second, they could allow us to defer for just one semester. That means we’d start our classes in the spring semester. Third is that they allow us to continue having online classes until we’re able to arrive on campus [later in the semester].”

According to Arora and other students, they still have not heard back from the University after sending emails asking for more information and clarification. They have urged American students to reach out to Notre Dame on their behalf as well.

“This isn’t a problem that everyone is facing. We’re a very small minority of the entire student population, and we need people to speak up for us,” Arora said.

Juliana Dantas, a first-year student who just finished a gap year, said she, too, would have extreme difficulty getting to campus by Aug. 1 in order to start the year.

“I feel like they’re being very inconsiderate of the entire situation, you know? I know that it’s not the University’s fault that the government is doing whatever they’re doing, but I think that it’s their responsibility to give us options,” she said. “Or at least communicate about it because we only get like, ‘Oh, you’re in our minds, we’re thinking about you, we know that this is tough,’ but that doesn’t solve the problem. So we just want online classes, or being allowed to defer to spring.”

Dantas, a native of Brazil, said although she appreciates the support she has received from Notre Dame students, she doesn’t feel supported fully by the administration.

“I chose Notre Dame because of the interactions I had with current students. … All of the American students have rallied for us. Everyone was posting on their stories, everyone signed petitions, people wanted to send emails. … We even got in contact with student government, and they were so sweet and talked to us yesterday,” Dantas said. “… But there’s only so much the students can do, obviously, they’re not the administration. But then on the other side, it feels like we are afterthoughts to whoever is making the decisions because we don’t get emails or any information.”

She said she and other students have reached out to get clarification on other matters, and the administration has promised responses that have never come through. 

“I think it’s just a general lack of communication. Every time we receive [an email back], it’s ‘Oh, next week, soon, tomorrow,’ and then that never arrives,” Dantas said. “Even with the online news that we wouldn’t have a 100% online option, we didn’t get an email about that.”

Arora and Dantas both said out of the hundred or so first-year international students, the only ones likely to make it back to campus this fall would be the ones with dual American citizenship.

“It’s a little frustrating because every time we received an email they told us that they had our best interests in mind and that everybody on campus was … they understood what we were going through. But these decisions they’ve made indicates otherwise, it’s just frustrating,” Arora said.

Dantas and other international students assumed they would be able to still participate in classes from afar.

“They hadn’t said anything prior to that update but, since quarantined students would continue having classes in some way, we thought those [rules] would be extended to us, except it would be for the entire semester and not just 14 days,” she wrote in an email following The Observers initial interview.

As of the publication of this article, those students still have not heard back from the University regarding whether or not they will have to defer their education a year.

“I think ND has been a lot of talk,” Dantas said, referencing University President Fr. Jenkins’ letter to Homeland security and subsequent support for international students in the face of ICE restrictions. “We didn’t get a letter. It’s nice that they’re advocating for us. But it doesn’t solve the problem right now. You know, we love that there’s support, and we love that there is sympathy in the entire community. But we need clarity.”

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About Mariah Rush

Mariah is a senior majoring in American Studies and minoring in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. She is from the great city of South Bend, and serves as Managing Editor of The Observer. You can find her always on Twitter at @mariahfrush.

Contact Mariah