On June 1 our university’s president, Dr. Barry Dunn, shared his thoughts with the university community (including all students) in his weekly Monday Morning Message. In sharing his thoughts about George Floyd’s death and the many responses to it, he reminded us of our university’s core values that were outlined most recently in Imagine 2023: Aspire, Discover, Achieve, the university’s vision and strategic planning project that President Dunn led in the first year of his administration. He focuses particularly on one core value devoted to diversity:
"We are committed to diversity of community and ideas. We believe in a supportive, inclusive, collaborative, and cohesive environment with a focus on access. We actively seek collaboration and we respect individuals with differing perspectives, backgrounds, and areas of expertise."
Our Office of International Affairs is one part of SDSU’s commitment to realizing this core value in our daily work, and our students and scholars from over eighty countries in the world are key partners in our efforts. We work together with a variety of campus offices (including the Office of Diversity, Inclusion, Equity, and Access and the Multicultural Center) and community organizations to support our international students, ensure they are well acclimated to American society, and provide them the opportunity to share their insights and their cultures freely and without fear as they advance educational and personal goals in South Dakota. Our annual series of programs, called “All Things International,” is one space among many on campus for students from the USA and around the world to get together, speak about culture and different ways of life, and learn about what we all share as global citizens.
For our students to learn, they must have a sense of security. Not only does that mean “they must feel safe,” but that also means “they must have access to secure housing, food, and university support.” We know the images being transmitted on television and the Internet from the USA today are troubling, but we also want to cite an example of the spirit with which our international students work within our university and our community. While Covid-19 continues to be part of our lives in the USA, the response of people in Brookings, our town, to our international students’ needs during the pandemic has been exemplary. We share an example of this community spirit to support international students at South Dakota State. A Malaysian publication picked up a story about a graduate student at SDSU who organized a food drive in Brookings to help students in the early days of the pandemic. Our office has also been engaged in fundraising to support our international students, and this effort is of course ongoing. Our students, our faculty, and our staff, and our town work together to help international students feel comfortable in South Dakota and engage the many challenges facing young people in the classroom as well as the world at large.
As much as we feel the responsibility to help international students and scholars at South Dakota State, we also believe we need to draw upon their ideas and their impressions of American life to help make sense of these extraordinary events in the United States in 2020. This input is critical in our ongoing dialogue in our country. We have worked hard to provide international students with access to our university, even if they are not able to get here in August 2020, through our Global Start initiative. Their presence in our community – virtually and on campus – strengthens all of us to confront the issues of the day, including the death of George Floyd, and respond positively to the challenge of making our country and our world a better place to live and grow in future years. We are confident that we provide our international students and scholars with the security they need to achieve their goals and realize their academic and personal dreams in our country. And we find the opportunity to play a small role in their lives truly an honor.
Soon we hope to bring everyone in our community together to celebrate world cultures and student achievements here at SDSU. We leave you with a video from this past year’s International Night, one of several cultural celebrations organized by our international student organizations. The International Relations Council, representing all international students, produces International Night to annual acclaim, and in some sense, it represents what happens when people from many parts of the world collaborate toward a shared goal. Revisiting International Night gives us the energy to continue our good work to serve international students and scholars well in the coming years.