The International Place — the Claremont Colleges’ joint resource center for international students — will shut down for good at the end of the 2020-21 academic year, according to officials.
Charlotte Johnson, Scripps College’s vice president for student affairs, announced the impending closure of I-Place in a virtual town hall June 11. The Student Deans Committee that made the decision, which includes the dean of students or vice president for student affairs from each of the colleges, did not provide a reason why in its statement to TSL.
Located on Claremont McKenna College’s campus, I-Place assists with immigration and visa paperwork, coordinates the New International Student and Scholar Orientation and hosts community events, including the International Festival, International Autumn Gala and International Education Week. Its website calls it “a center for cultural exchange, international educational programming and a resource center” for international students.
Formerly a 7C resource, I-Place currently serves CMC, Keck Graduate Institute, Pitzer College, Pomona College and Scripps. Harvey Mudd College and Claremont Graduate University pulled out of I-Place last year, with Mudd creating its own Office of International Students and Scholars and CGU moving support for international students to its Student Life, Diversity and Leadership Office.
The Student Deans Committee “is working to develop an effective model for the future that continues to support the collective international student community across our campuses and deliver relevant localized support and resources to address the varying needs of each campus,” according to a joint statement from the committee provided via email by Laura Muna-Landa, a spokesperson for The Claremont Colleges Services.
International students across the 5Cs said I-Place was an integral part of their experience at the Claremont Colleges and that losing this cross-campus resource will significantly impact the international community.
“Through events and the work that I’ve done at I-Place, I have gotten to know at least half the people that I know at the Claremont Colleges. Not only international students but also a lot of domestic students that are friends with international students [that] have come to events [at] I-Place,” Gunn Phikrohkit PZ ’22, an international student from Thailand, said.
Many students also cited NISSO as one of I-Place’s most valuable resources in building community. Each year, international first-year students at the 5Cs arrive on campus up to a week early to learn about the U.S. college experience and meet other students in the Claremont international community.
“My experience at college began with NISSO, and that’s where I met so many of my friends and peers. NISSO also gave me a chance to acclimatize to a completely new environment as it was specifically targeted to international students, unlike the general Scripps orientation,” Ananya Sagar SC ’21, who is from New Delhi, India, said via email.
For Sagar, losing the I-Place space is a big deal. She often went there to study or hang out with friends.
“I-Place has been like a ‘home’ for so many of us,” Sagar said.
Some international students were concerned about whether their individual colleges would be able to provide the same level of support to international students during orientation without I-Place as a resource.
“[NISSO] was this big thing just dedicated towards international students,” Nishka Khoobchandani CM ’23, who is from Singapore, said. “If each school has their own individual orientation, it’s going to be different because they’re balancing so many other things, whereas I-Place was solely for international students.”
Though all 5Cs have staff and organizations appointed to address international students’ needs, the loss of I-Place means the loss of a cross-campus resource solely dedicated to international students.
Students also raised concerns that due to the colleges’ differing sizes of international communities, some colleges may not provide adequate administrative support without I-Place. While 16 percent of CMC students are international, only 5 percent are at Scripps. At Mudd, 8 percent of students are international, and at both Pomona and Pitzer, 11 percent are international. For the graduate schools, 22 percent of CGU students are international, and 7 percent of KGI students are international.
Sagar said she and other Scripps students usually turned to I-Place for questions about taxes, visa issues, employment and post-graduation plans in the United States.
Though Scripps has a primary contact dean for international students and the registrar’s office assists with visa paperwork, Sagar said she has been “personally referred to I-Place by the registrar before for certain issues.”
“Some schools have a bigger international presence than others. Scripps’ community is super small,” Airi Sugihara SC ’22 said. “So in that sense, it will be a very different environment than Pomona, who has a very established, long-running student organization.”
Pomona employs an International Student Adviser and hosts a student-run International Student Mentor Program, which began in 2008, that helps first-year international students adjust to college in the United States.
The college is currently in the process of hiring a new international student adviser, according to Carolina De la Rosa Bustamante, the former international student adviser, who now serves as the director of the Oldenborg Center for Modern Languages and International Relations. Bustamante said in an email that she will be handling the responsibilities of the role until a new adviser is hired, including handling visa issues and “their overall experience in the United States and at the college.”
The Office of Study Abroad and International Programs at Pitzer also provides support to international students, and Phikrohkit has been working with the office’s director of international programs, Todd Sasaki, in anticipation of I-Place’s closure.
“We’ve been talking about how maybe we could restart the mentorship program,” Phikrohkit said. “We know for sure that we’ll have to do something more now that we’re on our own.”
In addition to offering a first-year mentor program, CMC’s international student organization, International Connect, “hosts regular meetings, plans cultural activities, provides educational support, and leads career-building events.”
Discussion about I-Place’s closure has been ongoing since at least spring 2020.
In its statement, the Student Deans Committee said it has devoted the last year to learning more about the international student experience and “evaluating how to best support their individual and collective success.”
“The colleges organized focus groups and called in international students to talk about what they need and the possibility of not having an I-Place anymore,” said Phikrohkit, who is also the president of the Pitzer International Students Association. Phikrohkit noted that learning about these focus groups was the first he heard of the potential closure of I-Place.
Editor’s Note: Nishka Khoobchandani CM ’23 is a copy editor for TSL.
This article was last updated Oct. 2 at 12:47 p.m.