Recruit & Retain (Niagara University)
Creating an Inclusive Campus
- By Deborah T. Curtis
- June 1st, 2018
Despite the nationwide increase in xenophobic rhetoric, we at Niagara University have seen a steady increase in our international student population. We are not alone; there are signs of the same elsewhere in the U.S.
Niagara, like other colleges and universities, encourages diversity by fostering an inclusive, welcoming environment with programs that help our international student population flourish both academically and socially. We are proud to say that Niagara University is home to students from over 40 different countries, including Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, China, Turkey, and South Korea. Furthermore, our number of incoming international students, not including Canadians, has increased by 25 percent.
Not every region in the U.S. can say the same, however.
How can universities maintain a welcoming environment in a harsher, more prejudicial climate? What programs or classes can be employed to engage and enrich international students? How can current populations be retained throughout their undergraduate and graduate educations?
Evidence has proven that word of mouth is one of the most powerful tools for growth. When students are happy, they tell their friends and family in their home countries. We know to get out there and work to forge partnerships with schools abroad with similar values to ours. These relationships are designed to allow international students to enroll as freshmen, transfer, pursue a graduate program, or spend a year or semester at Niagara University.
A Seamless Transition
Once students are on our campus, we maintain channels of conversation by getting to know them personally and ascertaining their goals. We feel it’s important to let them know they are welcome—by other students, our faculty, staff, and administrative personnel. We strive to create an inclusive environment and make the transition as seamless as possible—a mission that extends beyond the classroom. We host celebrations, like a Lunar New Year party, that allow both domestic and international students to come together, socialize, and appreciate different aspects of each other’s cultures.
Niagara University’s Edward A. Brennan Center for Language, Culture, and Leadership is the central hub for our various enrichment programs catered to international students and English language learners within the community.
With the Brennan Center’s focus on language, our ESL (English as a Second Language) program is our standout program. We place a high importance on peer tutoring, writing center, and reading and study skills assistance. These all assist international students with their acclimation to a new academic environment and a new country.
Making sure students do well academically isn’t enough. For young men and women who have never lived on their own before—let alone lived long periods of time in a foreign country away from family—establishing satisfying interpersonal relationships and taking care of one’s social health is as important as excelling academically. Therefore, we try to incorporate social integration with education whenever possible.
For example, Niagara offers an English Summer Camp for international students who wish to immerse themselves more deeply into American culture while honing their English language skills. It has all the aspects of a traditional summer camp—arts, sports, music, outdoor recreation—with the structure of a hands-on ESL program.
Despite the disheartening rhetoric that seems to be rampant of late, students still want to come to the U.S. to earn their college degrees and their families still want to send them. It helps that Niagara’s faculty and domestic students are welcoming and happy to have a diverse student body; they love to travel abroad and take every opportunity they can to experience the world as well. Faculty members and peers who speak their language work toward building relationships comfort students. This not only helps students acclimate, but also quells the trepidation of families who hear from abroad that the U.S. may not be as welcoming as it once was.
We, as administrators, keep in mind that we live globally in the 21st century, and that will not change. Having an international component allows all students to look at issues from different perspectives. International education serves all students, which fits Niagara’s mission and should for all other universities as well. By establishing a hospitable institution, students will learn from one another. They will be knowledgeable about different cultures and traditions and they will recognize the value of inclusivity and open mindedness in academia, the workplace, and socially.
This article originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of College Planning & Management.
Deborah T. Curtis, DBA, is the executive director of the Edward A. Brennan Center for Language, Culture, and Leadership at Niagara University in Niagara County, NY.