I'm first year international graduate student in US and recently I have received an insulting email (for example including "be thankful and keep your mouth shut") from a domestic student who is my teammate in a class project. The email was a follow up to my debate with another teammate, however there wasn't any context for anything like that (I consider all of university email as public records and I'm careful about what I write), and initial conflict was going to be resolved with few email exchange. When I brought up the issue to the class professor, he (the student) claimed that he was angry because of my position in the debate and he was defending the other team member, but overall he (the student) defended his email. The professor tried to calm us down and avoid escalating the conflict.

I have experienced similar but milder situation with other domestic students and in one case a young professor as well. The general hostility pattern is that, they expect me to keep my mouth shut and be second class citizen. I have heard from other international students that our small city/university is not a good place regarding this issue. My question is, can I do anything about it?

closed as off-topic by Cape Code, gman, Wolfgang Bangerth, gnometorule, Superbest Dec 10 '15 at 16:04

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    Trying to listen to the other student and find out what upsets them about the exchange can defuse a situation. It may be good to take a conciliatory approach such as saying "I'm sorry I seem to have offended you; can we talk about this more so I understand what this issue means to you?" might be productive. Hard to say without knowing the details though. – user24098 Dec 10 '15 at 9:54
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    @dan1111 I generally agree with you, but when someone makes a direct and insulting attack it is difficult to take a conciliatory approach. – Pahil Dec 10 '15 at 11:02
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    Voting to close, nobody can help you here without knowing the specifics. Plus any answer that will try to generalize to all "American" students is going to be inherently useless. – Cape Code Dec 10 '15 at 13:41
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    Well you got into a fight with other people, the only information you give us is that it was by email and that the other people are American. This information is completely irrelevant. But if you were giving the specifics, it would be off topic because it would strongly depend on aspects only you and the other people involved would know. Not to mention the whole thread would be useless to anyone else than you. Don't get me wrong, I hope that you're issue will be fixed, I just don't think it's a fit for this site. – Cape Code Dec 10 '15 at 13:50
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    Are you sure that this person is indeed trying to insult you? Can it be just a form of expression? I would first check with an American that this is not some kind of misunderstanding due to cultural differences. – Bitwise Dec 10 '15 at 15:21

I have to say that some of your comments on here are coming across as rather defensive and argumentative.

Sometimes trying to place blame, or argue about who was in the wrong, is just counter productive - you can't change what has already happened. It sounds clichéd, but sometimes the best way to deal with a situation like this is to be the bigger person, apologise for any offence and walk away. Hold you're head high that you're not stooping to the level of sending insulting emails.

But do consider @Alexandros' advice. Consider the situation, and consider other ways that you could perhaps have de-escalated it earlier. This isn't victim blaming, just self-improvement. We can all improve how we behave. Perhaps there is nothing that you could have done, and that's fine, but consider it.

In terms of your general situation, I don't think that anyone here can answer that.

  • Thanks for your advice, I agree with you, in many cases it is easier to solve an issue by not arguing. But a pattern of hostility from domestic students here still exists, they somehow believe they have the right to be hostile and they can be prude of it. – Pahil Dec 11 '15 at 12:49
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    @Pahil, honestly, don't lower yourself to their level. Beat them by conducting yourself well and professionally. Hold your head high in the knowledge that you're the better person. If they want to be hostile, let them. Try not to react to it. I know it's hard, and I wish you all the best - I hope that things get better for you. – zelanix Dec 11 '15 at 14:33
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    You are right, already I regret about every single time that I have reacted and I'm glad about every time that I didn't. Thanks for advice! – Pahil Dec 12 '15 at 15:25

I cannot give you advise on what to do in this situation as it depends strongly on the context, and you cannot give that information on an open forum like this.

However, I can make one comment: in general I would never try to solve such a conflict through email. Email is great, but when you sense that a conflict might start you immediately need to stop using email and try to speak with the person directly. Small misunderstandings that are easily resolved in face to face communication tend to get blown out of proportion very quickly in an email conversation.

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    s/resolved/suppressed by someone being embarrassed into giving up his or her position/ and then I would say +1. It's reasonable advice. – einpoklum Dec 10 '15 at 13:46

Recently I have received an insulting email (for example including "be thankful and keep your mouth shut") from an ... American student who is my teammate

The email was a follow up to my debate with another teammate...

I have experienced similar but milder situation with other American students...

...and in one case a young American professor

Do you notice the pattern here? It seems as though you a have a problem with many people you meet in a work environment (academia) that is generally tolerant of other cultures, international students and people with different backgrounds. Have you even considered the possibility that instead of blaming everyone else, that the only common element of all those cases is you? If not, you should probably start considering the possibility that you are also doing something wrong. Then try to fix it ASAP.

On the other hand, there are always obnoxious people in every work environment out there, so in those cases try to be professional and limit your interactions with them at a stricty professional level. Not all people can get along and be friends. Limiting unnecessary interactions with people you cannot get along can help you avoid further "debates" in the future.

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    -1 This is really obnoxious victim-blaming. There certainly are a non-trivial number of jerks amongst American students (as one might expect in any student population). – jakebeal Dec 10 '15 at 11:59
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    I don't think that this is obnoxious victim-blaming at all. In a conflict situation, it is always a good idea to reflect on ones own actions and consider how the situation could have been dealt with differently to avoid the conflict happening in the first place. You are only in control of how you deal with a situation, not the other person. Even if the other person is just a jerk, there are always ways better and worse to deal with that. Unfortunately as an international student, the OP has certain cultural differences to deal with. It can take some time to adjust. – zelanix Dec 10 '15 at 12:50
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    With that said, there is rarely a situation where an email along the lines of be thankful and keep your mouth shut should be considered acceptable, but we just don't have the context leading up to that point. – zelanix Dec 10 '15 at 12:50
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    @jakebeal I don't think this is victim blaming. Considering if one is doing something to trigger this behaviour is a good idea; where the answer may very well be "no, they are all jerks". – Davidmh Dec 10 '15 at 14:28
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    @Moriarty Yes, without context, it's very hard to tell what's meant. At the same time, that exact phrase could easily be used in a much less rude manner. E.g., if someone says, "yes, you have a good point, but in cases like this, sometimes all you can do is be thankful and keep your mouth shut" wouldn't really be offensive at all. I don't think there's really enough context here. – Joshua Taylor Dec 10 '15 at 15:36

If you've made a complaint and aren't happy with the resolution then you can escalate. That's not to say you should, though, you should only do that if you're unhappy with the resolution and you think the professor handled the incident so badly that a different handling is needed. It's not unusual for nobody to be happy with the outcome of an incident like this.

The other student acknowledged he acted in anger. Maybe he'll reflect more carefully about ever doing it again, in which case you have a modestly positive result. But what are you hoping for, an apology? A formal warning to the student? Tarring and feathering? A complete end to American exceptionalism in any form from any person? ;-)

Depending what you want affects what options are available to do something about it. But if what you want is for the other student's wrongness to be formally acknowledged and warned/punished, then really you need to start by going to someone familiar with your own institution's disciplinary system and asking what they would expect the outcome of such a case to be.

There isn't anything in the fragment you quote to tie this aggression against you (that you are somehow ungrateful and should not speak) to the fact you're not American. If the context does tie it in (for example if the intention is in context clearly, "you should be grateful to have been allowed into the country, and immigrants should not have the right to speak in this University"), then you might have an example in which the University authorities would take an interest. They take foreign students, they probably therefore don't want them kept quiet. But the professor who's already seen the case thinks it's not that bad, so personally I wouldn't bet on it. It's "just" speech, so I expect has to meet a fairly high bar to be censured, albeit that such principles have been known in some places to be applied patchily and unfairly.

If there's a wide pattern of hostility from certain of the domestic students, against foreign students, then you aren't going to establish it from a single incident. The only productive option really is for you, other people who've experienced it, and preferably allies who don't experience it but would like it to stop, to make a sustained attempt to raise awareness that it's going on and to convince people that it's a bad thing. I'm not an experienced civil rights activist and I don't want to advise you how to conduct that campaign. It needn't necessarily be protests and banners and formal complaints. I do want to point out that as long as the narrative is, "these isolated incidents do not reflect the values of this institution" then they will continue. Only by turning the narrative into "the values of this institution are not yet adequate to address these continual incidents and should change" does anything happen.

  • I don't seek punishment but I'm just getting tired of repeating pattern of hostility, they generally expect me to keep my mouth shut and be a second class citizen. There were not anything racial directly in email, I just said I have seen this behavior from only a specific type of people. Thanks for your comments anyway. – Pahil Dec 10 '15 at 13:29
  • @Pahil: yes, I imagine it's really tough, but that realistically the situation might be, "does not reflect the values of this institution but also not something this institution is interested in doing anything about". If there's no recourse and you must suffer, then suffer in company. It seems like the problem is recognised by the other international students you mention. But even jerks and even racists get to go to University somewhere, so recognising it won't end it. – Steve Jessop Dec 10 '15 at 13:35

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