University Town Hall focuses on resources for international community

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The issues facing international students and scholars in the United States at a time of potential changes in immigration and visa regulations, along with the University’s strong commitment to supporting its students, were the topics of a Penn State town hall meeting on the University Park campus Thursday (Feb. 16) evening.

Nick Jones, executive vice president and provost, told students, faculty, staff and community members that the University remains firmly committed to ensuring every student, faculty member and member of staff feels safe and secure in the community.

“Nurturing a welcoming environment where education and research can flourish is one of our top priorities,” Jones said.

The town hall was held in the HUB-Robeson Center in partnership with Penn State Global Programs. Jones encouraged international students and faculty who are uncertain about international travel to consult with Global Programs for guidance and assistance well in advance of any trips.

“The ability of our students to travel abroad and gather the data they need for their research is something we feel is extremely important, and we will do everything we can to continue to protect that opportunity,” Jones said. “From time to time, it may mean that out of an abundance of caution, we think that a deferral is a good idea or that maybe, in some instances, alternative arrangements might need to be made, but I can assure you that you will have the full resources of everybody in your department, in your college, at the Graduate School and in the Office of Global Programs, and in my office to help work through some of the challenges this may present.”

President Donald Trump signed an executive order that suspended entry of all refugees to the U.S. for 120 days and blocked entry to the U.S. for at least 90 days for citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. That executive order currently is tied up in a legal challenge, but another order could be made as early as next week.

Jones said that the situation is fluid and the University is closely monitoring it for any changes that could affect Penn Staters. He encouraged international students and scholars to be cautious and when appropriate, avoid traveling outside of the United States.

“We’re being vigilant so we can respond quickly, appropriately and accurately. We will maintain communications with you to provide guidance,” Jones said.

Penn State President Eric Barron recently joined other leaders in higher education who signed a letter expressing concerns about the recent executive order on immigration.

The University currently keeps some residential facilities open during breaks for students who do not go home. Jones said this year there may be more students who aren’t able to travel, and the University may need to expand that accommodation. He said the University is working on that issue as well.

Jones also addressed questions about providing support for friends and colleagues and incidents of intimidation or discrimination. The University is dedicated to the right of community members to express their opinions, but at the same time will not accept discrimination, intimidation or violence.

Jones, a native of New Zealand who has had first-hand experience being an international student in the U.S., said the issues facing Penn State and its international community are of great importance to him professionally and personally.

“I am keenly aware of the feelings that many of you may be experiencing during a particularly challenging and uncertain time,” Jones said.

Penn State has a rich history of diversity and inclusion, Jones said, and the University’s Strategic Plan includes fostering a diverse, safe and inclusive environment; and has as a foundational element fostering and embracing a diverse world.

“These are not just words,” Jones said. “We live these values and foundations every day.”

Last Updated February 22, 2017