Eight international students will not be able to return to Fort Lewis College in the fall because the United States is not permitting citizens from the European Union or the Schengen Area to travel here because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
That means students who returned to their home countries can’t return to the U.S. to continue pursuing their degree at FLC.
“We’re all extremely disappointed. We want to support all of our students, but we can’t in this case,” said Scott Miller, international student adviser at FLC.
The students who are unable to return are from countries such as Sweden, Germany, France and Italy.
It is unknown when the travel ban to the United States might lift.
Not all FLC students have the opportunity to study abroad, so having international students on campus is important for American students to learn from other cultural perspectives, said Benjamin Waddell, associate professor at FLC.
“When that’s removed from campus, everyone loses,” Waddell said.
Ruth Alminas, assistant professor of political science at FLC, said having the perspective of students who are raised and socialized in different countries is invaluable when she is teaching international relations and law.
“Until you communicate with someone who has that lived experience, it might not click,” Alminas said.
There are 26 international students pursuing a degree at FLC. While eight of them are unable to return in the fall, the remaining 18 students will return to campus in the fall for in-person classes, as of mid-July. Those students are coming from places such as Kenya, South Africa, Israel, Bulgaria, Australia, Peru and more.
President Donald Trump and his administration issued new rules Monday that international students will be forced to leave the U.S. if they are not taking in-person classes. If FLC is able to offer in-person classes as planned, those 18 students will not be affected by the new rules. Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology have filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration to block the rule, arguing it violates the Administrative Procedures Act.
FLC has not yet planned what to do for international students if the number of COVID-19 cases rises again to a level that would force them to go entirely virtual.
“We’re planning for everything at this point,” said Lindsay Nyquist, spokeswoman for FLC.
As of now, the college plans to move forward with in-person classes. While it is possible the eight students who can’t physically return to campus could take online classes with FLC, it is not guaranteed the courses they need to finish their degree will be available in that format.
“We’ll just have to take it as it comes,” Nyquist said. “We have so many staff working and planning for so many different things.”
Waddell and several other professors are working to develop “high-flex classes.” These are in-person classes that also post lectures online for students, which gives students more flexibility for a variety of situations, not just COVID-19, Waddell said.
For example, if a Diné student of the Navajo Nation has to miss class for a ceremony, or if an international student has to travel home for several weeks if a relative dies, these students can stay on track with their classes, Waddell said.
“We are doing the best we can due to the lack of certainty,” Waddell said.
But the decision by the Trump administration to put the new rule in place is “unfortunate,” Waddell said, because it is a political decision and not a decision based on what is best for students’ health.
“It places campuses in a bad position because then they have to go back in person, even if it is bad for students’ health, or they will lose their funding,” Waddell said.
Study abroad programsMany FLC students who are U.S. citizens and who planned to travel abroad in the fall semester made the decision not to travel abroad, even though the programs were not canceled, Miller said.
But many of the students have deferred to the spring semester and will be able to study abroad in the future, Miller said.
Two FLC students have chosen to pursue their study abroad programs – one in South Korea and one in Spain. Both students are traveling with the support of a study abroad program provider, the University Studies Abroad Consortium.
The company has “staff on the ground in those two locations to make sure students are safe,” Miller said.
The adviser said he believes the two students will have in-person classes because the program would not bring students to those locations if the classes were online.
As far as international students who study abroad at FLC, their universities are asking them to wait to travel to the U.S. and defer to the spring semester. A majority of those students come from Japan, Miller said.