Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Washington University Warned International Students Not To Participate in Occupy

A friend sent me this link of a message sent to international students at Washington Unviersity about the Occupy movement:

The Occupy Protests and Illegal Activities: Implications for International Students

The Occupy Wall Street protests that began in September have since spread throughout the United States and around the world. St. Louis even has a small Occupy movement centered around Kiener Plaza, with support coming from students from local campuses, including Washington University. The Occupy protests, both here in St. Louis and elsewhere, have mostly complied with local laws and ordinances. However, the number of arrests for Occupy-related crimes has increased in recent weeks as local governments and police agencies seek to enforce laws and, in many cases, quell the protests.

The Occupy protests may appeal to students for several reasons. It may be that the goals of the movement resonate with students. On the other hand, students may view the movement with curiosity. Students may even see the protests as a way to experience the American political process firsthand. In our view, however, the decision to participate in the Occupy Protests must not be taken lightly.

In order to participate, one must accept the possibility of arrest. Even in St. Louis, Occupy Protest-related arrests have been made. Arrests can have severe consequences for American students. However, international students face an even greater level of risk. International students who are arrested may face long term immigration consequences, including the loss of immigration status and even deportation, depending on the circumstances.

And, with news coverage of the Occupy Protests being broadcast around the world in a 24-7 newscycle and on the internet, an international student may face problems back home. Governments, and even perspective employers, may access information from online sources regarding activites that would viewed negatively in the home country. For example, background checks increasingly rely on information from online sources.

For more information on visa regulations and the consequences of an arrest, please consult an advisor in the OISS.

Now, the letter makes some valid points and I don't think this message was intended to be threatening for the sake of shutting down political opinions, but it does seem to me to strongly discourage international students from participating and to do so in a way that doesn't really make clear what things would and would not be problematic. Obviously, getting arrested is a problem for people here on a visa. However, there could be ways of participating that don't, as the letter claims, carry, "the possibility of arrest."

I've noticed first-hand that a lot of international students were pretty disturbed by this letter, and have been especially afraid of getting involved in any sort of political activity (specifically citing the letter as a reason). This seems like a real shame for academia, a place that is supposed to encourage free thinking.

1 comment:

  1. I went to STLCC and quite a few of Middle Eastern student/friends transferred to Wash U from there. WU had a real opportunity to open the discussion for these students on political activity; given the number of students from the Middle East, the repressiveness of some of the countries they came from, and in light of the major political upheaval there. Just telling them to "consult an advisor" is just plain lazy on their part. They should have started some kind of outreach for these students. This was an excellent opportunity to engage these students in the democratic process, for some what might have been the first time in their lives.