CEC WEEKLY TIES – Safeguarding global connections

Dear colleagues, 

On July 6, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) created a directive which would require non-immigrant students (F-1 and M-1 visas) who take a fully online course load this Fall to immediately leave the United States. The University of Minnesota joined other institutions around the country to voice our commitment to international students through a lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, asking the court to “prevent ICE and [the Department of Homeland Security] from enforcing the new guidance and to declare it unlawful.” And on July 14, the administration reversed course!

Global connections are an instrumental backbone of higher education. All institutions work hard to attract and retain international students, counting among others, the number of countries represented and the number of international students. At the University of Minnesota, these numbers are 130 countries (77.7% from Asia) and 7,212 students (44% undergraduates and 49% graduate). Beyond numbers, global connections have long been considered indispensable in an interconnected world that can successfully tackle grand societal challenges.

The pandemic however, exposed the nuances behind this premise. Countries, including the US, rushed to repatriate citizens while others, developed travel corridors with allied nations in an effort to limit the spread of the disease within their borders. International students got caught in the raging waters of national responses to the pandemic and this week’s letter creates space to reflect on international student experiences and what that means for global citizenship.

Studies suggest that international undergraduates are less satisfied with their college experience, have less sense of belonging, and feel a lesser degree of development in scholarship than American students. As many stay and work in U.S., they become our colleagues and neighbors while those who return to their home countries are our alumni and ambassadors for research and practice. Kwame Anthony Appiah (2006) advocates for two strands to cosmopolitanism: feeling an obligation to others and taking interest in the lives of others and what gives those lives significance. Below, I use this framework and my own experiences as an international student and a teacher to reflect on ways that can strengthen our global engagement with students, friends, and colleagues.

Look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas.Tasoulla Hadjiyanni, Editor
[email protected]


Broadening Worldviews

The pandemic and the global movement for racial justice that followed George Floyd’s death reinforce the need to interrogate the principles and values that guide our approach to higher education and to practice. It was one of my Vietnamese students, Jennifer Ta, who first enticed me to look into Hanoi’s Temple of Literature. Built in 1070 and dedicated to Confucius, the temple’s architecture propels us to rethink who we want to be and how. Entering the complex through the Great Portico, one witnesses an ascending dragon to the right, which symbolizes endeavor and success at study, while on the left, a tiger descending from a mountain symbolizes the strength and power of intellect. Once inside the first courtyard or Entrance to the Way, one can see three gates. The Great Middle Gate was reserved for teachers. To the left is the gate of Accomplished Virtue and to the right, the gate of Attained Talent. Students must first learn how to behave respectfully. Acquiring knowledge comes later and only then, students could walk through the gate of talent as the final goal is becoming both virtuous and talented.

 How would our teaching and practice change if we capitalized on worldviews where virtue is as critical as talent development?

 Image credit: Tasoulla Hadjiyanni


Uncover Stories - Cec Design

Names have the power to both support and destabilize personal identity as they intersect with political processes along with ritual and daily social life. Often, international students in a struggle to belong opt for names that are “easier” to pronounce. Learning each other’s names is an opportunity for engagement and connectedness as names can be the springboard for intricate storytelling that breaks down barriers and stereotypes. They can be used as ice-breakers to start dialogues. Questions around naming traditions, such as “What does it mean?” enable us to reflect on different languages, expand understanding of history, authority, and relationship to cosmos, as well as religious and life events, unraveling the geo-political dimensions that draft borders and define citizenships, or the lack of them, around the world. 

The two parts to my name, “Hadji” and “Yanni,” capture the turbulent history of Cyprus, which catapulted my journey as an 18 year-old international student to the US (see The Right to Home’s Chapter 2 for more on how my refugee and immigrant experiences inform my approach). Finding themselves at the cross-roads of civilizations, religions, and languages, my ancestors appropriated the term “hajji”, a title earned after the pilgrimage to Mecca for Muslims, for those Christians who got baptized in the Jordan river. Cyprus gained its independence from Britain five years before I was born (1959) and the stories of what it took filled my childhood days–from school-age youth participating in riots to unfathomable loss of life and uncertainty. This Xylotympou school, designed and built by my great-grandfather Παναγής Χ’ Γιάννη in 1924, an architect, builder, and sculptor, is an example of how names and architecture could help reaffirm the island’s Greek heritage during colonialism.

What are we missing if we do not pause, reflect, and connect with those around us?

Image credit: Tasoulla Hadjiyanni 


Interrogating Familiar Processes

The Minneapolis Institute of Art’s Asian Galleries allow us to immerse ourselves in two Chinese period rooms without getting on a plane to cross the Pacific. The reception hall from the late Ming dynasty and the Studio of Gratifying Discourse flow into the largest permanent display space for Japanese art in the Western world. With over 15 galleries and over 10,000 square feet, the collection includes Buddhist sculpture, woodblock prints, paintings, lacquer, works of bamboo, ceramics, and two historic rooms:
a formal audience hall and a teahouse.

Visiting the galleries with students from my History of Interiors and Furnishings class created a platform for students from China and Japan to celebrate their heritage, sharing vivid descriptions of interior elements, word translations, and stories. At the same time, decolonizing the curriculum and design practice implies reflecting on how museum collections are acquired and what that means for colonialism’s continued distress. Greece’s struggle for the return of the Parthenon marbles from the British museum is one such example. When I asked the students how they felt to see part of their heritage displayed abroad, they responded:      “It is a way for others to learn about our history and traditions.” Since the pandemic, anti-Asian attacks of discrimination have joined other barriers Chinese students face, such as language and culture
that make their adjustment to the US more difficult.

How can we engage in effective and inward-looking difficult conversations?

 Image credit: Tasoulla Hadjiyanni 


International Student And Scholar Services Office

Our International Student and Scholar Services Office (ISSS) offers the Culture Corps Program, where international students can share their unique experiences as guest speakers in various courses. Studies show that active engagement in college activities, such as visiting speakers, was likely to promote interaction and higher level of growth among students.

In Design and Globalization, I invited a Palestinian veiled Muslim student to speak about the practice of veiling and how it relates to domestic interiors. She talked about the challenge posed by the clear side window on her front door, which has a direct view of the staircase. If she was unveiled when the doorbell rang, she could not go up the stair as she could risk being seen. She planned to place a covering over the window. See also The Spatiality of Veiling.

As another student noted: “It reallypleases me when people ask me about my religion and my hijab, because I’m always willing to clarify peoples’ misconception of the hijab and illustrate the significance of it and why we Muslim women have the honor of wearing it. As a Muslim woman, I never viewed the hijab as a way of being oppressed, but rather a blessing because I have the opportunity to show people my religion, and my modesty, which always brings me respect and honor.”

How can we create spaces for dialogues around what gives our lives significance? And, how can we translate that awareness into design interventions that support diverse
meaning-making processes?

Image credit: Tasoulla Hadjiyanni

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