Op-Ed, Opinion

OP-ED: Behind the invisible boundary, confront American exclusivity

* Op-Eds do not reflect the editorial opinion of The Daily Free Press. They are solely the opinion of the author.

Megan Neely, the former director of the master of biostatistics program at Duke University, wrote a threatening email to international students saying they may not get a job offer because they were speaking Chinese in the student lounge.

“To international students, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE keep these unintended consequences in mind when you choose to speak Chinese in the building,” Neely wrote. “… I encourage you to commit to using English 100% of the time when you are in Hock or any other professional setting,” according to CNN.

When Neely sent out this email in January, she insinuated that American colleges are sacred spaces that cannot be violated by foreign languages. Everyone is obliged to preserve universities’ “Americanness” by speaking proficient English. The “foreign language” issue speaks to a larger problem existing in the United States.

Despite proclaiming itself as a melting pot, the United States shows a strong divide between the “insider” — those born in America — and the “outsider” — those from all over the world who don’t act or sound like Americans.

President Donald Trump has said, “We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country,” and, “I will build a great, great wall on our southern border.” This has caused foreigners in America to be automatically labeled as outsiders.

Staying in America for two years as an international student, I still face ignorant questions: “Why do you speak English so well? Did you stay in America for a long time?” It seems most Americans assume that foreigners speak English with a strong accent and bad grammar. When I applied for internships in America, the first greeting is not “How are you?” but, “We don’t accept international students.”

The invisible “white” authority let privileged individuals enforce the boundary between the “outsider” and “insider” cultures.

America might seem proud of its diversity, but it constantly enforces the harsh line that makes foreigners inferior. The Cordoba House, a proposed Islamic community center two blocks from the World Trade Center in New York City, is an example of scapegoating. The mosque will never be built because of America’s association between immigrants and danger.

According to a 2010 Time Magazine poll, 61 percent of the Americans oppose the construction of the mosque. This number not only shows American’s tendency to marginalize other cultures, but also reveals an insurmountable gap between a national self and an anti-national other.

What America should do now is not re-conceptualize the foreign cultures, but put itself in the foreigners’ shoes. It is never correct to forbid foreign students’ identities through language in a new environment. If American educators want international students to speak only English on campus, they should try to learn a second language and humble themselves.

Americans’ xenophobia proves its short-sightedness. What the diversified cultures have brought to the States are not the “stolen jobs,” but a more open-minded and colorful nationality.

According to Inside Higher Ed, 2016 saw a seven percent decline in international enrollment at universities. This was just the start of the xenophobia crisis. I cannot even imagine how students learn from each other if the school is purely white.

The controversy around the Asian hatred, immigrant policy, the Cordoba House or the U.S.-Mexico border wall is not only about the sanctity of the insider’s space. Ultimately, it is also a consecration of America’s exclusivism.

It is time to stop perceiving the world through colored lenses. Erase the boundary for those who suffered in the past and present.

Tina (Xintian) Wang, COM ‘20 can be reached at tinaw98@bu.edu.

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  1. Well written Op-ed!America has always claimed itself as a country diversifying culture. But recent actions showed the opposite.

  2. quite impressed by the essay. Being aware that many chinese top students are doing research overseas, i am kind of curious about their status. “Global Competence” has been made Tsinghua University’s slogan recently. yet after reading this paper, i feel that it is more urgent for both sides to understand each other better. maybe a study in china’s top university about chinese’ opinion toward America would be more attracting for your paper. I am very willing to help if you would like to post such an essay:)
    “We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country,” it should be “Mexico” by the way.