by Gabrielle Guimarães ’24
Amidst the hotly debated topic of immigration is the issue of international students. Looking around, it is hard to find many who are opposed to international students, being that they come for studying purposes and return to their home countries. However, when those international students are immigrants, who come with the intention of graduating and building a life for themselves in the United States, there is more opposition. To begin my assessment of this, I spoke with Kalkidan Antonios, Admissions Counselor for international students, and asked about the different requirements an international student needs to fulfill in order to attend Gordon College. Among those are a language proficiency test, translated transcripts, interviews, and proof of funding for the first year. Through this I found that not just anybody can achieve the opportunity of studying abroad in the United States. Qualified students are evaluated on many aspects before being admitted. That is of great importance, because international students provide a strong talent pool while making great academic and cultural contributions to college campuses. It is also evident that international students make a significant contribution to the economy of host countries. According to a study done to examine the influence of international students’ interaction on domestic students, it was found that in 2011/12, international students contributed over $22 billion to the U.S. economy through expenditures on tuition and living expenses. (Luo, J., and D. Jamieson-Drake). Given those preliminaries, it is now easier to examine the impact that immigrant students have on Gordon College specifically. In order to write this essay, I have researched the intersection of immigrants and education, interviewed individuals who have first-hand experience in this topic, and reflected on my personal experiences and convictions. In this essay, I seek to examine the substantial benefits immigrants bring to undergraduate education, and how that impact noticeably exceeds the institution of education.
To hone in on one focus within my topic, my case study will be Gordon College. I will begin by quoting part of the mission statement of the Global Education vision. Part of our mission as a college is:
Bringing a global sensitivity to community engagement locally, sharpening our global consciousness and conscience through promoting lectures, essays, exhibitions, and performances, nurturing the cross-cultural ethos on campus by highlighting the gifts and contributions of our own international students, faculty, and staff. (Gordon 1)
That being part of Gordon College’s mission, it brings to question why there are those who would be opposed to immigrants accessing higher education. As is exemplified in a study by Juan Garibay, many factors influence student attitudes toward immigration. In the article, he offers two theories that potentially explain the influence that contexts and backgrounds have on students’ attitudes toward their immigrant peers. The first theory is the Group Threat Theory, which states that attitudes against undocumented immigrants are developed by fears of threat or competition in a given group. These threats include realistic threats, symbolic threats, stereotypes, and interpersonal anxiety (Garibay). The second theory is the Intergroup Contact theory, which suggests the opposite: more diversity within contexts can lead to increased intergroup contact, which reduces intergroup prejudice. In their 2006 report on America’s Immigration Quandary, the Pew Research Center found that people living in areas with greater immigrant populations generally have more favorable and positive views toward immigration. This can be predicted in college, where students, although coming from different backgrounds, all share the goal of completing their education, so under that condition, intergroup contact among college students would be optimal.
One of the questions this research paper is set out to explore: What are the benefits of immigrant presence at Gordon College as pertaining to academics? Many faculty and staff of Gordon College voiced their first-hand observations. Jerry Logan, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs explained that in his interaction with student-athletes, he has found that creativity is a skill, and a big determinant of mastering that skill is thinking more broadly. From his experience, athletes do well with racial divides as teammates get to know each other more than they would inside the classroom (Logan). Having that interaction between natives and their immigrant peers inherently provides more eye-opening means. This is consistent with research, which shows that contact with faculty outside class was significantly correlated with international interaction, and informal contact between students and faculty with depth has been shown to have a substantial impact on student learning (Luo, J., and D. Jamieson-Drake). In their study of the effects of experiences with diversity, Pascarella, Palmer, Moye, and Pierson (2001) found that having serious discussions with international students had a significant, positive effect on third-year critical thinking for Caucasian female students. I also interviewed Ruth Melkonian, Professor of Political Science/International Affairs. Within the classroom, she noticed that it is fantastic to see how these cross-cultural interactions play out in the classroom. She has observed that since international students tend to follow global news better, students are able to learn from one another and bring depth to their knowledge of global news (Melkonian). Kalkidan Antonios, who was an international student herself and is now an Admissions Counselor for international students, gave one example of this. To fulfill her major, she had taken development classes that had intentions of understanding developing world politics, and in doing so she found that her experience as someone originating from a developing country brought perspective to her classmates on what it was really like (Antonios). The mission of Gordon College is to graduate men and women with Christian character who are able to lead worldwide. Such a mission cannot be accomplished when the student body is homogenous. The mission becomes more possible at Gordon College because 15% of students at present are international students, and minorities comprise 30% of the student body. The archives and trends of the student body demographic at Gordon show that this dream is becoming reality with time.
As it relates to the student demographic at Gordon College, I will also discuss the role of campus culture in the gamut of benefits that immigrants bring to Gordon College. Immigrants bring richness not only to the classroom but to the student life engagement at Gordon. This is consistent with a recent study, which found that in comparison to non-interactive domestic students,
highly interactive domestic students reported significantly higher levels of development in a wide range of areas across the three cohorts. Also, the findings suggest that active engagement in college activities, such as coursework outside the major, contact with faculty outside class, ethnic or cultural clubs or organizations, and visiting speakers, was likely to promote interaction across cultures (Luo, J., and D. Jamieson-Drake).
Among other findings was that highly interactive U.S. students indicated significantly higher levels of skill development in different areas: reading or speaking a foreign language, relating well to people of different races, nations, or religions, acquiring new skills and knowledge independently, formulating creative or original ideas or solutions, synthesizing and integrating ideas and information, achieving quantitative abilities, understanding the role of science and technology in society, using computers, and gaining in-depth knowledge of a field. Overall, it was found that “involvement in ethnic or cultural clubs or organizations, visiting speakers, and on-campus employment provided U.S. students with opportunities for interacting across cultural boundaries” (Luo, J., and D. Jamieson-Drake). That is because extracurricular, cross-cultural student engagement makes room for students to learn about different cultures and become more connected with their campus culture (Baxter Magolda, 1992). In the long run, this positively affects students’ intellectual and psychosocial development, multicultural competence, interpersonal skills, and leadership capabilities.
Naturally, one could fear that having different clubs to celebrate diversity in culture on the Gordon College campus could cause disunity in the vision, causing “clickiness” on campus. That is because there is a fear that as students are given the opportunity to associate themselves with people from their culture, they will not make an effort to leave those bubbles and further cross-cultural interaction, which in turn disrupts the very mission it was set out to fulfill. However, something I learned as I spoke with Caroline Dixon, Director of International Initiatives and Operations, was that “…every applicant, no matter where they are from, is asked this question during their admissions interview, and their answer is taken into account when acceptance decisions are made:
Gordon is a community committed to shalom (God’s peace), to a diverse community where all are treated equally as brothers and sisters in Christ, and to rejecting racial injustice in all its forms. This responsibility is an important part of how we interact with each other at Gordon and how we represent the College and the greater community around us. What does it mean to you? (Dixon).
Students who are admitted to Gordon are, in part, evaluated by how much they believe the unity in Christ is important. Because that aforementioned “clickiness,” might remain a fear, there has to be efforts to maintain unity despite those things that might distinguish students. At Gordon College, and as Christians, we know that before the race or culture that identifies us, we have an identity in Christ.
This brings me to my next point, which is that this very diversity allows us to strive to mimic a picture of heaven, which is multicultural, multilingual, and multiethnic. Our spiritual unity surpasses those differences, which is why it is important to have more multicultural integration in initiatives respective to spiritual formation, such as chapel. What would it look like to be inclusive of different cultures in those activities? One example that comes to mind is in Chapel worship, singing songs that are not translated from English to another language as a way to integrate another language, but rather sing a song that is originally in that other language.
When it comes to immigration, the disadvantages are looked at plenty, but I come to point out that since immigrants have benefited our college so greatly, it is incalculable how much they benefit the world outside of our campus. It is worth trying to understand that those coming to pursue a life in the United States after college, though coming from a different country, have a lot to bring to Gordon College, and our nation as a whole. Immigrants benefit our colleges, and that points to the grander picture of how they benefit our society. As these very students complete their education, secure jobs, and become contributors to society, the benefits are numerous!
As it stands, Gordon College has a total student body 1,451, of which 32% are ethnically non-white and international. Compared to the nationwide 4.6% of total enrollment at American higher educational institutions, this is great news (Silver). Caroline Dixon, Director of International Initiatives and Operations says that
Gordon College can be proud that we have had since our first class in 1889: men AND women students, white AND non-white students, American AND international students. That’s an amazing legacy. Most American universities didn’t integrate racially and along gender lines until the 1970s! Almost a century after, Gordon College was already there. I am so proud of that. (Dixon).
To understand this experience and how it was felt on the individual level, I asked Kalkidan Antonios what her experience was, as an international student herself. She reported that she felt cared for even to the details. She had holiday meals with professors, was provided winter gear, and had all her questions answered. In addition, Gordon College is lucky to have an excellent resource, Judith Swanson, who makes this possible and allows international students to feel like they have access to anything they need. Many of Kalkidan Antonio’s international student friends who attended other colleges could not say the same. The same hope and pride we have in how well-off Gordon College fulfills this mission can be used to gracefully understand where we can improve. To continue furthering this mission, Yicuary Melo expresses her desire of retaining domestic minorities and their culture, implementing a more diverse faculty and staff, initiating larger cultural integration that reflects the population of our student body, translating the website to include multiple languages, adjusting curriculum to not be ethnocentric, and seeking more diversity within residence life staffing and programming (Melo).
She also believes that the student body at Gordon is what makes up the campus culture and that students at Gordon College are the reason improvements to campus culture have a chance of happening. A case in point, all the student clubs that incoming students see as normative of Gordon College were not always there, and were started by students. At Gordon, there is a culture that is constantly shaped by the students. As Yicuary Melo said, “They [students] need to know their ability and power to make drastic changes on campus” (Melo). When students push for change, those changes eventually become part of the campus culture.
I will close with some thoughts from Ruth Melkonian, Professor of Political Science/International Affairs. She explained how we do not live in a homogenous world, and since that is the case, we want to be reflective of that reality at Gordon College. Such a notion implies that there is no other alternative (Melknonian). Furthermore, as Christians, we want an environment that reflects God’s kingdom. With all the compelling benefits of immigrant presence at Gordon College, we should continue to push for more diversity and inclusion, embracing immigrants and ensuring that anyone coming to Gordon College can find their place; that is because, in Christ, we all find our place.
Antonios, Kalkidan. Interview. Conducted by Gabrielle Guimaraes. 14 April 2022. Dixon, Caroline. Interview. Conducted by Gabrielle Guimaraes. 21 April 2022. “Enrollment.” Enrollment – Gordon College, https://www.gordon.edu/profile/enrollment
Garibay, Juan, et al. “Layers of Influence: Exploring Institutional- and State-Level Effects on College Student Views Toward Access to Public Education for Undocumented Immigrants.” Research in Higher Education, vol. 57, no. 5, Aug. 2016, pp. 601–29. EBSCOhost, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11162-015-9400-0.
Logan, Jerry. Interview. Conducted by Gabrielle Guimaraes. 30 March 2022. Luo, J., and D. Jamieson-Drake. “Examining the Educational Benefits of Interacting With International Students”. Journal of International Students, vol. 3, no. 2, June 2013, pp. 85-101, doi:10.32674/jis.v3i2.503.
Melkonian, Ruth. Interview. Conducted by Gabrielle Guimaraes. 5 April 2022. Melo, Yicaury. Interview. Conducted by Gabrielle Guimaraes. 8 April 2022.
Silver, Laura. “Amid Pandemic, International Student Enrollment at U.S. Universities Fell 15% in the 2020-21 School Year.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 9 Dec. 2021, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/12/06/amid-pandemic-international-student-enrollm ent-at-u-s-universities-fell-15-in-the-2020-21-school-year/#:~:text=Fewer%20than%201%20mill ion%20foreign,at%20American%20higher%20educational%20institutions
Swanson, Judith. Interview. Conducted by Gabrielle Guimaraes. 7 April 2022.