By Snneha Saha ’21

As soon as Davidson decided to move to remote instruction last spring, the decision international students were to make moving ahead was not a straightforward one. Several questions began to arise: Should I travel back home to India? If I do, would I be able to enter the States again in the summer for my internship? Would returning home for months have an impact on my student visa status? Would I be able to afford the 28+ hour journey home, especially if I were to return in the summer? As international students, we are required to think carefully about every aspect of our decisions in order to guarantee we make the most of the academic career we chose to have miles away from home.

I decided to return home two days after Davidson announced that it would transition to remote instruction for the rest of the semester. I, along with many of my friends from India both in Davidson and elsewhere, felt there was no better place to be than home during a pandemic. However, in the span of those two days, I had to cancel two flight itineraries due to travel restrictions. The first included a layover in London, but a few hours after I booked my tickets, India announced cancellations of all flights coming in from the U.K. The next trip was via Abu Dhabi and yet again, my WhatsApp messages overflowed as India announced a 14-day government isolation for any passengers arriving from the gulf countries. In order to avoid confusion and save my parents from further worry about my travels, I made another cancellation and booked myself on a much more expensive flight that flew straight to India. My family and I spent most of those two days on FaceTime as we deliberated multiple options. We also lost a good sum of money due to the cancellations but, in the end, we decided to move ahead with returning home. It was not a straightforward path; it was the opposite –– full of stress and chaos.

Davidson’s decision to go ahead with primarily in-person instruction in the fall came to me, my family, and my friends as a shock, as it caused a resurgence of those same feelings we felt in March. With North Carolina’s rising number of COVID-19 cases, as well as some other colleges and universities across the U.S. announcing their plans to employ a hybrid mode of instruction, but with the option of offering all classes remotely for the students unable to return, Davidson’s decision seems odd and more of a crowd pleaser. It feels as though Davidson blatantly strove towards making powerful people, both administrators and members of the student body, feel more comfortable with their shared “aim of gathering together again on campus.” 

However, that aim is not inclusive enough. Carnegie Mellon University’s email to its students about its decision for the fall semester included a paragraph that read, “We will provide you with a CMU-quality experience in your program this fall wherever you are physically located, and if you begin your studies remotely, we look forward to welcoming you to campus when you are able to arrive. If you are considering whether to start the fall semester remotely, or need to do so, we are ready to assist you with those arrangements. In particular, international students who have concerns about their immigration status or visa should contact our Office of International Education, which will be available to you throughout the summer to provide information and counsel.”

Stanford University released its plan and addressed its community’s travel by stating, “Our plans for the coming year must provide for the safety of students, who will travel to Stanford from all over the world, as well as the safety of our faculty and staff who interact with students” as they move ahead with “online as the default teaching option for 2020-21, to be supplemented by in-person instruction as much as is safe and feasible for students and faculty who are present on campus.” However, Davidson’s administration effectively avoided addressing any concerns about travel in their email, whether it be travel bans or visa problems, that its international community will likely face. 

Rather, Davidson directed a bullet point in their email towards students who would be unable to return to campus due to health concerns and simply declared their inability to guarantee some classes through a remote format. Upon reading that, I began to feel on edge, because if the institution cannot prioritize its immunocompromised members, then why would it prioritize students crossing international borders instead? Yet, I could not shake off my fear of academic disruption; as many of my classes for the upcoming school year are seminars and labs, will these classes be offered to me remotely if I am unable to return? What will Davidson do to assure me that my education will not be disrupted, and that I will be able to stay on track with my major requirements?

After we received an email from President Quillen about Davidson’s official decision, which raised more questions for me than it answered, another email followed two hours later from the International Students Program (ISP) letting us know that they would soon reach out to us and  address concerns about the fall. Even though that email gave me a sense of acknowledgement, why did it come later? Were we taken into account when they decided that it was okay to make the campus-wide announcement by leaving us out, even as the college continually prides itself on being “aware of and supportive of the needs of international students?” Why were we not addressed in the first official email that ironically started with “Davidson friends”? We, Davidson’s international community, were an afterthought. ISP still hasn’t followed up on their email, so international students have received very little clarity on Davidson’s decision, even as it’s been 10 days since the official email. Davidson’s complete neglect of how their decision would impact international students came to me not just as a disappointment, but also as extremely hurtful.

I am from Kolkata, and my country is seeing record highs of COVID cases every day. International commercial flights have been halted since mid-March. So, the million-dollar question: how are we to return to campus in less than two months if our borders don’t re-open? How were we so easily left out of such an important decision? I am a rising senior, and I want to be back on campus with my friends just as much as the larger domestic crowd that Davidson is trying to please but, I still ask, is this decision the best option for us all? 

With Davidson’s decision, and its updated calendar, international students like me are expected to travel internationally on at least three flights, including transit in and out of several airports in order to get to Charlotte, then in a span of three or four months, get back to our home country for Thanksgiving or Winter break, and then back to Charlotte again in January. That’s at least nine long airplane trips. Is that what’s expected of us? During a global pandemic? Many of us don’t have places we could stay in the U.S. over break, and many of us just want to be able to go home and spend the holidays with our family –– the families we don’t get to see as frequently over Fall Break, Family Weekend, Thanksgiving, Spring Break, or Easter. It’s just Summer and Winter for us, and we, too, look forward to being home rather than spending the break alone on Davidson’s empty campus. 

The CDC released a Q&A on travel, and according to that, air travel and time spent at airports does increase the risk of exposure. So… we are expected to be okay with the increased exposure travel may bring onto us. We are expected to risk our health and safety. Where is the academic equity when the decision to return to primarily in-person classes is not possible for many of us to return? Why did you calculatedly leave us out of your promise of education “embedded in our immersive approach to learning” when you could be arranging for equal resources to be delivered remotely to those unable to return? Did you consider all aspects to deliver your students and faculty equity, especially the ones who have the most to lose with this return?

Even as cases surge, India lifted its lockdown earlier this month because our economy could not sustain such a long shutdown. Airlines continue to suspend international flights for the foreseeable future. I have several friends who go to school in the U.S. and have been stuck there for months, as they were unable to return home before our borders closed in March. That is extremely scary. We don’t live a drive away from home. We don’t have family visiting us every other weekend. What if India goes into another lockdown and we are unable to return home in November or December? Why put us through so much anxiety, fear, and worry again over a decision that could have been more inclusive of everyone? 

Not too long ago, a Davidson student led a protest in Charlotte against North Carolina’s stay-at-home order and chanted “set us free.” Is it really hard to believe that we will have several other students like her on campus every day? President Quillen’s email mentioned that we will always be required to cover our faces indoors, but what happens after 4:20pm? It is so tough to maintain any distance at all at campus parties, and I absolutely do not believe those entitled students would willingly give up on their precious parties. Time and time again they prove that they do not care about or feel obliged towards the Davidson community, especially towards those who are immunocompromised, live with family members with underlying conditions, or identify with the Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities. Now, ask yourself, who will be the ones paying the price for this hurried campus return? 

Davidson, you recently released a statement in which you emphasized “respecting and valuing” BIPOC on campus. You continually stress how important inclusivity and diversity are for Davidson’s campus, and you pride yourself on delivering an experience that combines “academic rigor with a distinctively supportive community.” However, your decision about the fall gave me little to no sense of respect or value; it failed to show me the supportive Davidson community you claim to be. You said you are grateful for all that we do, but what are you doing for us?

Snneha Saha ’21 is a senior psychology major and can be reached at snsaha@davidson.edu