Drop in International Applications Reflects Political Shift

Nathan Carpenter, Editor-in-Chief

One of the harsh realities faced by many in the wake of President Donald Trump’s election is that the United States is not a friendly country. Until Election Day, political rhetoric about the U.S. being a country of immigrants, a cultural “melting pot” was common. Ostensibly, a lot of people — particularly white people — bought into that narrative of the U.S. as a welcoming place.

Now, as national immigration and travel policy shifts drastically, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to argue that the U.S. is truly open to all. Xenophobia has come to dominate political discourse in both Washington and in our local communities. Trump is moving to close our borders and increasingly isolate the U.S. from the rest of the world. Despite setbacks like his travel bans being twice struck down in court, Trump’s rhetoric is already having a tangible impact.

Last week, NBC News reported that 39 percent of colleges and universities that responded to its survey reported a drop in international applications. That’s a staggering number. And the motivation behind this drop in applications can be traced directly back to Trump and the current climate of divisiveness and fear that he has promoted.

“Educators, recruiters and school officials report that the perception of America has changed for international students, and it just doesn’t seem to be as welcoming a place anymore. Officials point to the Trump administration’s rhetoric surrounding immigration and the issuing of a travel ban as having an effect,” the article states.

It’s not just policy that is discouraging potential international applicants. The recent rash of violent speech and actions against immigrants and people of color in communities all across the U.S. has also increased anxiety. Specifically, the NBC piece cites a February incident in which two Indian men were killed in Kansas while the shooter said, “Get out of my country.”

Such events have discouraged young students from wanting to come to this country. That’s a big problem for a nation interested in being on the cutting edge of innovation and invention. In an increasingly globalized world, technological and social advancement is going to be promoted by more collaboration with other countries and cultures, not less.

The impact of international students avoiding U.S. colleges and universities is more significant than a simple loss in human capital, however. The loss of cross-cultural interaction will be devastating for a country that is already veering back into the territory of overt white supremacy that many hoped we had left behind.

My roommate last semester was an international student, and a couple of my closest friends are as well. I value them for their friendship, first and foremost. And, as with any other of my friends, I also value the dimensionality that they bring to my life. I appreciate that my worldview and global understanding is expanded by virtue of knowing and learning from them.

Trump threatens to eliminate the potential for these important connections to be made. Of course, it is not the responsibility of international students to come to the U.S. to be ambassadors for their own countries. However, if they do decide to study here, our colleges and universities — and, by extension, our country as a whole — are made stronger by their presence.

Ultimately, as time goes on and cooler heads hopefully prevail in the White House and elsewhere, applications from international students will likely rebound. However, if that does happen, U.S. citizens will still be left with some serious issues to address. We must critically evaluate how this country shifted so suddenly from the quiet, perhaps naïve, complacency of the Obama years to the clear and present danger being presented by the Trump administration.

Xenophobia and white nationalism in this country never disappeared. But it is alarming how quickly we allowed those dangerous ideologies to assume the driver’s seat in Washington and in our communities. In a matter of months, the United States became quantifiably and significantly less safe for many people, including those from other countries, and so, understandably, people from other countries no longer want to come here. Part of the process of making the U.S. welcoming will be to ensure that a similar descent into divisiveness and hate is never allowed to happen again.