International Students Mixed on Politics
International students avoid politics on campus
September 3, 2004 4:03 PM
During a highly contested presidential election year at a politically-charged school, some foreign and immigrant students at SF State have reservations when it comes to expressing their political views.
Cultural upbringing and concerns about their status in the United States motivate many of the students to adopt a political position, but in some cases, concerns about political activities upsetting their international peers prevent students from engaging in politics.
“Everybody in my opinion has a political leaning,” said Sanjoy Banerjee, professor and interim-chair of the International Relations department. “[and] any person with a personal view can make any [political] demonstration permitted by law.”
“I am not interested in politics [because] I am not a citizen,” said Masaru Yoshimura, a 22-year-old cinema major from Japan.
Yoshimura said he is aware that non-citizens do not participate in politics in this country.
“If I go back to Japan next year maybe I would attend some democratic event to vote,” he said.
Last year 5,333 foreign students attended classes, contributing over $86 million to the school’s budget, according to an economic analysis of SF State prepared by Michael J. Potepan of the department of economics. The total number of students enrolled last year was 28,128.
“I am a foreign student,” said Yasumasa Kato. “If I am involved in politics, I do not think that would be safe for me.” Kato mentioned that he might get in trouble with immigration authorities if he gets involved in activities unrelated to school.
Kato, 34, studies international relations at SF State, and this semester he is taking a class about development in third world countries. He has participated in the political process in Japan and indicated that if he was allowed to vote, he would vote for John Kerry.
“I am really interested in the presidential elections,” Kato said. “But I better stay away from it.”
American students are scattered all over the world. Kati Anderson Bell, an adviser for students abroad, talked about the way her department addresses students going abroad.
“We advise American students to keep up with current events,” said Anderson. “When it comes to participating in a political manifestation [abroad], we tell them to be very cautious. It is a safety issue.”
Safety is also a key component of some foreign students’ attitudes toward politics at SF State. The Patriot Act, the law passed by Congress in Nov. 2001 that gives the government power to investigate a student’s school record, has a lot to do with these fears.
“One could argue that because of the Patriot Act there is some curtailment in the freedom of speech,” Prof. Banerjee said.
But he also said some students have written in newspapers expressing freely their opinion, despite curtailments.
Nikko, a computer science grad student who does not want his last name to be printed on the grounds that his opinions might upset somebody in his country, witnessed the way foreigners are treated at American airports.
According to Nikko, immigration officials interrogate everyone, and they are fingerprinted every time they leave or enter the country.
He said Asian people are “very passive,” and that when he goes back to Taiwan he will try to “educate” his friends about America. Nikko abstains from participating in politics, and he has a strong reason for that.
“If we cannot vote, I think that it is pretty much useless,” he said.
Professor Ellis Burcu of the International Relations department deeply understands why foreign and immigrant students avoid being involved in politics on campus.
In addition to some legal hurdles, these students are accountable to their families who often times pay for their high tuition fees.
She said she always encourages her international students to speak up and talk about the realities of their countries. “This campus is so diverse that sometimes international students seem to disappear,” she said.
However limited, immigrant students can participate in the democratic process by volunteering for a political faction of their choice, and though many foreign students might prefer to avoid politics, Prof. Banerjee has something to tell them:
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