The 'Cute' Minority: Increasing Institutional Support for International Students

“International students are treated this way because we’re the ‘cute’ minority.”

For one international student at Pomona, this statement encapsulates Pomona’s institutional treatment of international students.

Every year, Pomona’s admissions department prides itself on its plethora of international admits. In its demographic report of the admitted Class of 2021, Pomona boasts that “admitted students hail from 46 countries”–followed by a very lengthy list of nations spanning five continents. In its international student brochure, Pomona is branded as a “globally-oriented campus” and a “recognized leader in international education."

While many international students are incredibly grateful for Pomona’s comprehensive learning opportunities, institutional support remains surface level. Pomona recruits international students in order to project an image of global diversity and inclusivity–a 'cute' minority. Yet once they are admitted, they are often left to fend for themselves.

On April 17, a slew of dissatisfied international students gathered in Frank Blue Room for an external review forum hosted by the International Student Mentorship Program (ISMP). Students of varied nationalities and backgrounds echoed a singular, compelling statement about the lack of institutional awareness and efficiency in addressing international student needs.

Many international students voiced concerns regarding the allocation of financial aid. Despite ranking first in the nation for “Great Financial Aid," both low-income domestic and international students of color consistently fear reductions in their financial aid packages.

International students, however, face very specific challenges. For one, financial aid packages are currently not adjusted for exchange rate fluctuations due to international economic volatility. One student remarked how his country’s currency is severely depreciated against the dollar, thus compromising his family’s ability to pay–yet his financial aid package did not reflect this.

A second financial aid impediment unique to international students is that international financial aid packages do not adequately cover travel costs. For those travelling across oceans and continents, four years worth of plane tickets amount to thousands of dollars. Consequently, many international students are forced to stay on campus during extended breaks.

Most importantly, admission for international students remains need-aware--the admissions department takes financial need into account when accepting international applicants. While international students do receive aid, this practice advantages those with the ability to pay–often at the expense of low-income applicants. This implicitly perpetuates socioeconomic inequality.

While I acknowledge that Pomona’s financial aid system is more supportive than other institutions, it is no secret that Pomona possesses a two billion dollar endowment. Yet instead of investing in domestic and international financial aid, the administration instead funds ziplines and surf simulators on Marston Quad.

At the external review forum, international students also brought attention to the absence of a reliable, central, and knowledgable international student resource. Earlier this semester, the international student designated school official (DSO)–Sara Mitchell–was terminated without prior warning, creating worry among international students needing immediate assistance.

She was swiftly replaced by Joel Hart and Marilyn White. Hart primarily works as a dean in the Office of Admissions, and White only works part-time. Consequently, international students point out a lack of time-accessibility from their DSOs. This is especially detrimental when international students have to meet deadlines for work and internship applications that involve heavy paperwork.

In fact, international students feel that DSOs–and the administration in general–lack knowledge regarding international student problems. For example, the International Place of the Claremont Colleges fails to assist students with complicated tax issues, leaving them at risk for fines. Consequently, the majority of international students are forced to seek assistance elsewhere–either from other students or internet resources provided by other higher education institutions.

Most alarmingly, international students may face additional obstacles in academic settings. Certain majors are constructed with varying degrees of America- and eurocentrism. Notably, the PPE major’s philosophy requirements primarily feature European philosophers, while its politics requirements center around American politics and constitutionalism.

Similarly, the Public Policy Analysis major requires enrollment in Intro to American Politics and Policy Implementation and Evaluation (a US-based public policy class). Consequently, international students are at a disadvantage in comparison to their domestic peers, and they may feel disconnected from the material they are learning.

I acknowledge the difficulty in accommodating all international student needs, due to the sheer diversity in international experiences. However, more comprehensive efforts are needed to ensure a smoother transition for international students. International students already face immense social pressures, such as homesickness, acclimatizing to American culture, and navigating Pomona’s socio-political climate; they should not be further burdened by logistical incompetence.

If Pomona is truly a “globally-oriented campus," they must provide the necessary institutional support that justifies the label.

We are more than just 'cute minorities.' We are not collectible trophies, gold-plated with words like 'diversity' and 'inclusivity'–only to be left gathering dust.

We are students of this institution, and we deserve to be heard.

Jolo Labio PO '20 is from Manila, Philippines. Catch him every Monday-Thursday at 7:59 AM, furiously sprinting to his 8 a.m. at Mason.