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Institution taking steps to alleviate safety concerns on US campuses

Transparency and communication to international student community increases in priority due to an increase of gun violence in the US. Photo: Unsplash

Quinnipiac has mitigated further loss of international students by investing in international recruitment

Stakeholders have previously suggested that gun violence is correlated with the increasing concerns of international students studying abroad in the US.

In a study conducted by World Education Services in 2019, in which over 1,900 international students participated, approximately a “quarter of respondents [were] concerned about gun violence at their institution”. In addition, according to the 2021 QS International Student Survey, safety was the second leading concern to international students following cost of living.

After the shooting in early February on the Michigan State University campus, Quinnipiac University – a private, four-year university located in Hamden, Connecticut – announced a new requirement to complete mandatory active-shooter training.

Tony Reyes, chief of Public Safety, revealed that such increases in active shooter incidences prompted the creation of a “more individualised training module for the community”. An email sent to the study body on February 16 outlined these upcoming changes.

Sarah Driscoll, the director of International Student Services at Quinnipiac University, shared with The PIE News that Quinnipiac previously had general active-shooter training.

However, the new requirement is an “enhanced version” that is more “institution-specific”. This personalised course instruction is in addition to the presentations that Quinnipiac Public Safety presents to “all incoming students at Orientation about safety on campus and emergency preparedness”.

Reyes said in The Quinnipiac Chronicle, the university’s student-run newspaper, that numbers may be the most salient when discussing crime and violence on university campuses. However, “the greatest indicator of a community’s safety is not crime stats but rather how safe the community feels”.

Domen Bozic, a senior at Quinnipiac University’s School of Business, knows firsthand how important community is – particularly as an international student.

Originally from Slovenia, Bozic participated in the international student community at Quinnipiac through teammates on his soccer team. He also works at the International Student Services office. He describes the international community at Quinnipiac as many cultures coming together to “work in symbiosis”.

Bozic said he has “never felt unsafe here at Quinnipiac”. Nevertheless, he acknowledged the potential dangers of neighbouring areas in Hamden or New Haven. In addition, one of his parents “was a little skeptical” as he elected to live off campus during his first year.

In the May 2019 issue of NAFSA’s Trends and Insights publication, William Pruitt, assistant director of global collaborations at the University of South Carolina, shared how universities can address the concerns exhibited by many international students and be proactive in their communications.

One of the first suggestions Pruitt suggests is to “promote transparency”.

At Quinnipiac, Driscoll communicates with parents and families of these international student communities through Quinnipiac’s Parent and Family Newsletter, particularly with parents who are concerned.

The type of information disseminated in these newsletters typically consists of deadlines, visa-related notices and upcoming cultural programming.

“We bear a responsibility to communicate to our population about events that may impact their experience, studies or wellbeing”

“I believe that we do bear a responsibility to communicate to our population about events that may impact their experience, studies or wellbeing,” Driscoll said. “We also want to make sure that students are aware of and take advantage of the various counselling and support services across the institution that is available to them.”

She also recognised the “understandable concern” that international parents face when sending their kids to the US, particularly among the “coverage of America’s gun culture and frequency of mass shootings”.

In recent years since the pandemic, there have been changes to typical enrolment trends at Quinnipiac, such as a decrease of the number of students from China.

Relayed by a representative from NAFSA, the Institute of International Education’s Fall 2019 Enrolment Snapshot demonstrated that approximately 46% of institutions in the US believe that declined enrolments are the result of safety concerns, even though “nearly half of these institutions also reported that international students felt welcome on campus”.

Quinnipiac has mitigated further loss of international students by investing in international recruitment. The director of International Student Services told The PIE News that they expect the international student population to grow “greatly over the next few years”.

While the MSU shooting and other violence this year have stunned the US, the tragic events have not shaken the international student community at Quinnipiac. Students such as Bozic will participate in Quinnipiac’s revised safety protocols.

However, they will continue to gain support and guidance through the university’s resources, such as the International Student Services.

As noted by Pruitt, while not every tragedy at an institution may be completely preventable, there are actionable steps that universities can take to alleviate the concerns of the international student community. Such a strategy may take the form of revised active violence measures, or increased transparency about difficult topics.

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