This week, International Student Senator Onyemauchechukw “Justice” Nwigwe ’18 will be presenting a proposal to Vice President of Student Affairs Greg Kneser about the possibility of providing scholarship funded housing for international students staying in the United States over the winter break.
“We are trying to create a system whereby, instead of annual housing, there is tenured housing for certain situations so that people can plan to not have to reapply every year. One case would be for the international students, so that students know where they are going to stay for winter break,” Nwigwe explained.
The idea is that there would be an honor house set aside for international students, specifically for use by students remaining on campuses over long breaks, such as winter break, during which the residence halls are locked. Thus, the international students could safely and responsibly take care of themselves without needing others in Residence Life to stay on campus to ensure the maintenance and security of a much larger building. In this way, they can ensure the integrity of the locked residence halls, and Public Safety would know that the international students were staying in one place in case of an emergency. This honor house ideally would be tenured for two years before needing reapplication, rather than every year.
The key element of this proposal is that the housing would be free of charge. Currently, all students must pay for each day that they spend in student housing over winter break. One of the main concerns surrounding the price tag is that because campus is effectively shut down, work awards are not in effect and students are unable to work. And yet, with the high cost of traveling home, staying on campus is the only option.
“Christmas is a fantastic holiday, but not everyone celebrates that or considers it a holiday, so going back home or looking for a place to stay, or even paying for housing at the college around here seems to be a problem for international students,” said Nwigwe.
Paying for housing can be a burden, especially considering that international students often accrue extra expenses over and above those of domestic students.
“At the end of the day, if you look at all the options they give international students and options domestic students have, by the time you subtract the costs of all that St. Olaf provides for international students, you are down to a negative for international students, whereas it is a positive for domestic students. The work award is reinvested back into the school for the international students and the domestic students have more money to pocket,” said Nwigwe.
This discrepancy has not so much inspired hard feelings between students as it has sparked the idea for potentially free international student housing. One of Nwigwe’s major questions for the administration is where the money raised from housing costs goes and whether they might have enough to create scholarships to fund the winter break house.
“Emphasizing ‘equal opportunities for everyone’ is accusing the school of not doing enough. I’m leaning towards the lens that as the number of international students at St. Olaf continues to increase, which ten years ago I know we were only at seven students and this year we are about 235… we also need to open up our rules and reinvest to accommodate the international students,” Nwigwe said.
Supporters of the proposal are currently working to determine how many international students would require an on campus place of residence, based on the number that stayed on campus for the winter break in past years. Nwigwe will then bring this and the results of his discussions with Vice President Kneser into a meeting with the Associate Dean of Students and Director of Residence Life Pamela McDowell, who will determine the outcome of the proposal.