YIGIT KACMAZ, TRUMPET CULTURE & DIVERSITY AND NEWS EDITOR
Lack of transportation. Lack of communication. Lack of representation on campus.
Over the past few years, many international students have struggled to feel accepted at Wartburg College. Along with being far from home, several college policies differ between domestic and international students.
“There is no bridge,” second-year accounting major Peace Iteriteka said. “A bridge is something that links the administration to international students, and international students to administration.”
This year there are 91 international students at Wartburg. The number of international students remained the same as last year.
During a series of meetings, international students expressed their dissatisfaction. They met with Wartburg Administration, including Director of International Student Services Zafrul Amin.
“I don’t think we are at the same level with other students. I don’t think the school administration is seeing us as the other people who are paying to be here, I think they see us as ‘how great, we are doing this favor for you,’” Leticia Da Silva, fourth-year music and religion major and international student from Brazil, said.
International Club (I-Club) is one way that international students at Wartburg can connect. The purpose of the club is to encourage inclusion on campus and to create a fun environment where everyone is accepted.
“My first understanding of I-Club, it was supposed to promote diversity and culture on campus,” Da Silva said. Da Silva served as the I-Club president last academic year. “But because of the lack of resources on campus for international students, it kind of became the main resource for international students.”
The COVID Relief Fund Issue
One of the incidents that caused upset among international students was the discrepancy between international and domestic students in the distribution of COVID relief funds.
On March 11 and May 26, 2021, federal COVID relief funds were distributed to all Wartburg students. The payment amount was based on financial need.
“I hate that, that was really unfair,” fourth-year business administration and economics major Stanzin Norzang said. “At the end of the day we are all paying taxes.”
International students met with Amin to address their concerns in the spring of 2021.
According to Amin, Wartburg administration should have explained the reasoning behind the COVID Relief Fund better to students.
“If the administration would have provided clear guidelines about how this amount came to be, I think a lot of frustration could have been avoided,” Amin said. “Communication is always a two-way street. As far as administration goes, we need to do a better job communicating to our students.”
“It was a confusing time for college leaders too,” Associate Director of Global Admissions Kasandra Grosser said. “Whenever I learn something that is going to impact the students that I serve, I try to communicate that in advance if possible. But it is also good to know that we are always involved in all of the decisions.” Grosser said.
‘Do We Belong?’ Cultural Night
According to Da Silva, international students did not get satisfactory answers or actions from the Wartburg administration regarding the discrepancy in the COVID relief fund. This led to heightened feelings of international students not feeling as if they belonged at Wartburg.
“We had majority of international students attending this meeting and still we realized nothing was going to happen,” Da Silva said about the meeting between international students and administration. “We are still struggling with the problems students who graduated from here 20 years ago struggled with.”
I-Club collaborated with Student Senate after the meeting to protest administrations actions by taping banners that read “we are not your tokens” on the pictures of international students around campus.
“We put the banners over the night and in the morning, there was nothing over there, no one saw it and the school did not even try talking to us,” Da Silva said.
According to Da Silva, not receiving action from college leaders led to a change in cultural week plans.
“We decided that it was impossible to organize a cultural evening and not talk about injustices that were happening,” Da Silva said.
Culture Night is an annual event intended to highlight various cultures at Wartburg. Students from 58 different countries were represented at the culture show.
I-Club hosted the cultural evening on April 10, 2021, with the theme of “Do We Belong?” as a response to a section in Wartburg’s diversity statement that tells students, “you belong.”
“It was heartbreaking to hear some of our students do not feel like they belong,” Grosser said. “We are so happy that students voiced that.”
According to Amin, in response to last year’s cultural night, the school is providing more trainings to faculty members and the dining services crew.
“I have been working with the dean of students and the dean of faculty to provide that information to let them know what are some issues I am hearing from students,” Amin said.
The Role of I-Club
International students who serve on the I-Club executive team feel intensified pressure to help their peers.
“I wanted to solve issues. I wanted to help students because they were expecting of me, but to the school I was only the president of any other club,” Da Silva said. “I was a leader with no power at all.”
Iteriteka is the current president of I-Club and raised the same issue.
“When we arrive on campus we are told, I-Club will help us with most things we need,” Iteriteka said. “Later on, we realize that we are actually alone in this, which shows to the school it is only a club.”
According to the constitution of I-Club, the purpose of the organization is to help adjust international students to Wartburg and American culture.
“Students and administration had some expectations from I-Club. A club should be fun, not solving issues,” Da Silva said. “It should be the job of someone getting paid.”
Some change has come from I-Club speaking up. One of the issues that international students face has been transportation since many do not have their own car on campus.
The administration made some alterations to transportation opportunities available for students. There will be two trips to Walmart each month and four other trips throughout the academic year to different locations.
“We are going to have a trip to Iowa City this break and then we are going to have another trip Thanksgiving Break,” Amin said.