I work in a research group with a large number of international graduate students. Recent news in my country (the United States) has been deeply unsettling for some of these students, especially the ones who hail from "unwelcome" countries (see here).

As a U.S. citizen, I (personally) feel guilty and embarrassed over the current goings-on (nor do I agree with them), though I certainly do not expect other Americans to necessarily feel that way too. Many of these students in my lab know my personal feelings on the matter. But at the end of the day, there isn't much I can do right now to affect national policy, so I'm trying to think more locally.

What, if anything, can I do here in my lab/department/university to help my fellow students/peers/friends?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – ff524
    Jan 25, 2017 at 23:18

4 Answers 4


The best thing you can do in my opinion is to be the change you wish to see in the world. Namely, be as friendly and welcoming to the international students as you can be. This will show them that negative views towards people who hail from the countries they come from are not shared by the entire US population, but are simply the opinions of certain people who happen to hold political office these days. It will also make you a role model for other Americans in your lab and department who may be inspired by your positive example to act in similar ways.

  • 1
    +1, inviting them into your life is going to be far more effective than anything else you can do.
    – enderland
    Jan 26, 2017 at 18:40
  • 1
    +1 it's almost certain they'll be feeling the same way about their own governments, so you'll be in the same boat. I would also suggest explicitly letting them know that you support them and not what your government is doing, if you still think they may have any doubts.
    – user541686
    Jan 26, 2017 at 19:55
  • This is utopia, in a nice world this is how we should all be. But what about the real world when these students are not on campus, and they're looking for accommodation or part-time work?.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 27, 2017 at 13:01
  • @Mari-LouA I have no idea what you're referring to about students not being on campus (OP describes them as students in his research group, so it seems safe to assume he sees them on campus), but feel free to write your own less utopian answer.
    – Dan Romik
    Jan 27, 2017 at 15:27

As I said in my comment" "Talk to them". At the very least, this way you will show them that you care, dispel the notion (not completely unfounded) that "americans do not care about what happens outside of their own country". Talk to them about life in the country they left, how did they manage to get away, how are they adapting to the new country (and the new, post-election, realities). This will be an interesting learning experience for both you (since you never left the US) and them. This might force you to think about difficult questions to which there are no easy answers, such as:

  • How does one live in a dictatorship and retain (some level of) integrity?

  • How do you politely reject an offer to work for a secret police?

  • What do you do if you find out that your brother is informing (the secret police) on your grandfather?

  • What do you do if a policeman asks for a bribe?

  • What do you do when your best friend kills his sister because his father told him to do so?


  • 6
    I appreciate the sentiment here, but I'm giving a -1 for the implications. I agree that there are hard questions that I've never faced, but I think this response is a bit extreme -- the U.S. is still a democracy, regardless of my political views, and I have to respect the opinions of my countrymen if I want them to respect my own.
    – tonysdg
    Jan 26, 2017 at 1:16
  • 4
    This answer kinda depicts the amount of ignorance in some of Amiricans. Dude, do you really think that these are the main issues in their country?? You should actually try to talk to them yourself! And watch less movies
    – polfosol
    Jan 26, 2017 at 4:54
  • 1
    @Toadfish: I should say that I downvoted because I got the sense that MoisheCohen was saying "these are things that might happen in the U.S. someday soon". I don't want to ignore that these atrocities do happen around the world, and I'm more than happy to listen and (try to) learn from others who have these experiences. I may have interpreted this answer wrong.
    – tonysdg
    Jan 26, 2017 at 5:09
  • 1
    @tonysdg that's actually why I said it's not perfect — to say that any of the examples given are immanent in the US is hyperbole; I feel that in a sense, listening to people with different experiences could actually moderate the panic experienced by some Americans at this point in time: there are those who have experienced far worse, and people find ways to live, to fight, to leave if they have to. America may no longer be the shining light on the hill, but it's not Somalia.
    – Toadfish
    Jan 26, 2017 at 5:28
  • 2
    Thankfully, there is no secret police in the U.S. (yet). What on Earth does the last question have to do with any political situation, ever? Jan 27, 2017 at 3:50

You could reassure them with the truth. The USA goes through political swings in one direction, then the other. People on either side are not nearly as bad as people in the other political party make them out to be. You could tell them that although there are changes in actions and behaviors of the goverment and people, for the most part, the talk is usually of a much greater magnitude than the actions that take place.

  • 8
    Some of these students may be from countries that have just been banned from entry to the country, even for those who have gone through the considerable trouble to obtain a visa. I'm not sure that reassuring them that it's mostly all talk and people aren't so bad is going to help. Jan 26, 2017 at 19:04

If individual students are experiencing personal distress due to this matter, they should seek counselling or therapy; the university should provide these services. Moreover, if you see international students (or, more generally, if you see anyone) be kind and respectful to them. This is a general rule which you can never go wrong with. In this sense, your question is quite trivial; be nice, problem solved.

At a more fundamental level, though, I believe that this question has a political overtone. Implicit is that this policy decision is bad and something Americans ought to apologize for. The decision made by the Trump administration is a temporary ban on refugees from a handful of Muslim-majority countries. Its purpose is not racist or meant to demonize people based on their ethnic or national origin; it is a national security measure. We can debate its merits, but this notion that the policy constitutes a personal attack on all Muslim students is absurd.

When the university "helps" these students systemically, they are taking the normative stance that the policy is wrong and that the students' feeling of "unwelcomeness" is justified. It is not within the university's purview to take an active position on these matters.

  • 7
    WRT the political overtone: I won't deny that I don't support and in fact disagree with this policy decision. That does influence my state of mind. I also understand that some (many?) of my fellow countrymen do support and agree with it. And I respect those beliefs -- they believe that this is the best way to keep themselves and their children safe. FWIW, my focus here isn't on my own feelings -- yes, I feel embarrassed, but that's my problem, not anyone else's -- but rather on my colleagues who do feel personally attacked. You can call it absurd if you wish, but that's how they feel.
    – tonysdg
    Jan 26, 2017 at 1:14
  • 7
    I think there's a valid question here, regardless of politics. Even if you believe that the ban is justified by national security concerns, surely you can understand that people from those countries who are in the U.S. are likely to feel unwelcome.
    – mhwombat
    Jan 26, 2017 at 1:33
  • 34
    The premise of this answer seems to be that it is the policies of the Trump administration that are causing international students to feel unwelcome in the US, and that such feelings are unjustified in view of the supposedly rational and unracist nature of these policies. I'm sorry but I find this laughably false. You ignore the fact that certain politicians have consistently employed very toxic and inflammatory rhetoric against those groups that is strongly suggestive of a real animus they hold. The policy may or may not have merit but that's totally not the cause of the problem here.
    – Dan Romik
    Jan 26, 2017 at 1:49
  • 12
    -1 "It is not within the university's purview to take an active position on these matters." -- Definitely not a consensus view in academia. For example, here is my college's official statement on "Our Commitment to a Safe and Welcoming Place", dated 11/30/2016, that one could use as a model: kbcc.cuny.edu/sub-administration/PresOffice/Documents/… Jan 26, 2017 at 7:27
  • 9
    personal attack on all Muslim students is absurd - thoroughly disagree, given Trump's call on a blanket ban against all Muslims
    – Nobilis
    Jan 26, 2017 at 9:24

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