Harvard’s Undergraduate Council launched a petition Tuesday calling on the College to strengthen support for international students during the spring semester.
The petition requests the College extend the petition deadline for students to decide whether to return to campus for the spring semester, require professors to allow a 12-hour window for international students to submit assignments and exams, and offer a hybrid academic program that features an in-person component.
The Council also urged the College to prioritize international freshmen alongside seniors for spring housing if a hybrid model is implemented. If classes continue fully online, the petition requests that Harvard communicate its reasoning for the decision to international freshmen and their families.
Federal visa restrictions prohibited international freshmen from living on campus during the fall semester because all undergraduate courses were held online. As of now, those same restrictions apply for the spring semester.
“This year, international students have found themselves mentally, physically, and emotionally distant from their peers who reside on campus, which has led to severe detrimental effects on their mental health and social lives,” the Council’s petition reads. “Students feel that the administration of the college has completely forgotten them and does not take their needs into consideration when formulating decisions about college life.”
Several Council members said international students’ input guided their drafting of the petition.
“Our job was simply to amplify, because so many incredible and truly phenomenal international students had come to town halls and told us what their concerns were,” said Ivy Yard Representative Tarina K. Ahuja ’24, one of the statement’s sponsors. “They were the catalyst, they were the ones that brought these ideas to us, and it wouldn’t have been anything of what it is without them.”
Samuel H. Taylor ’24, an international student from New Zealand and “citizen sponsor” of the Council petition, said the fall semester was a “disappointing, unenjoyable experience.”
“We’re promised a transformative experience,” he said. “There hasn’t been much of a transformation at all except for the fact that I’ve spent more time inside, up at weird hours of the night, kind of living a shell of a life.”
Taylor said the Council’s petition incorporated concerns that international students have raised to the University throughout the fall semester, including the need for additional lecture times and flexibility in academic expectations.
“There are some accommodations we think are not unreasonable to expect because we are at a massive disadvantage compared to all of the other students,” Taylor said.
Matilda Marcus ’24, an international student from England and another citizen sponsor of the statement, said the University’s decision to conduct the entire academic year online prevented her from living on campus, despite successfully petitioning for Harvard housing due to a challenging learning environment at home.
“I petitioned to be on campus, and my petition was successful,” Marcus said. “The College said to me, ‘You have enough need to be here, but we’re not going to help you.’”
College spokesperson Rachael Dane did not respond to a request for comment on the Council’s petition.
Elm Yard representative Anant P. Rajan ’24, who also sponsored the petition, said he is confident it will result in greater awareness of the challenges faced by international students.
“I think, historically, the students of Harvard College are wonderful at holding the College accountable, and we’ve seen that actually a lot this year,” Rajan said. “I am confident that the petition will hold traction.”
Sponsor Daniella M. Berrospi ’24, a representative of Ivy Yard, called the petition a “stepping stone to something bigger” in the Council’s support for international students.
“I never think just writing something is ever enough,” she said. “Our work with international students isn’t done.”
As of Saturday evening, the petition had 231 signatures.
—Staff writer Alex Koller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Taylor C. Peterman can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @taylorcpeterman.