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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Thursday, June 13, 2024

Tufts supports Afghan student community amid ongoing crisis

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The Tufts International Center supports international students, scholars, employees and their dependents throughout their stay at Tufts.

As Tufts community members impacted by the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan grapple with the ongoing crisis, community members have worked tirelessly to support students and address the lack of on-campus engagement around the issue. 

Andrew Shiotani, director of Tufts International Center, has been one community member closely engaging with impacted students — supporting Afghan students through academic, financial and mental health challenges. The International Center has been particularly focused on assisting two new students from Afghanistan.

Tufts support of community members impacted by the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan drew increased attention, including an email acknowledgement by University President Anthony Monaco, as the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks neared.

“While recent events in Afghanistan have undoubtedly caused us all to take pause and reflect, Tufts is committed to supporting our students and scholars from the region, and as part of the larger higher education community, working to ensure that scholars, especially women, receive a safe haven to continue their scholarly pursuits in the true spirit of academic freedom,” President Monaco wrote to the Tufts community.

In addition to the array of administrative departments mobilizing to support students in the spirit of President Monaco’s message, Tufts students and organizations have also mobilized, according to Tufts’ South Asian Regional Committee (SARC). 

“Many students and student groups have also either conducted their own fundraisers or committed time and effort to raising money for external fundraisers to help the Afghan people,” SARC shared in an email to the Daily. 

SARC is optimistic that community events focusing on the Afghanistan crisis will provide a chance for students to become more informed on the region. 

“Any lack of engagement or discourse on the crisis at Tufts could likely be attributed to a lack of awareness or understanding of the crisis, so we are hopeful that these planned events will help foster further discourse and broaden students' understanding of the crisis," SARC said. 

Perhaps contributing to the lack of knowledge about the crisis is Tufts' limited student enrollment from the region. According to the Tufts University Fact Book, a compilation of characteristics of Tufts’ student body, Tufts sponsored just one student visa from Afghanistan in fall 2020, for a member of the Fletcher School. Student enrollment from the Middle East and North Africa is also low. 

According to Shiotani, it's difficult to attribute limited student enrollment from the region to just one factor. 

“I think enrollment is affected by a complex of factors," Shiotani said in an email to the Daily. "The International Center monitors the impact of US visa and immigration policy and operations on student enrollment trends, but enrollment can also be affected by demographic factors (population size, the overall size of the college-attending population); economic and political conditions in a particular country or region; the strength of alumni networks and historical connections and relationships with schools and colleges in the country or region; [and] home country and US government support for international education, including the availability of scholarship opportunities."

Despite the limited student representation on campus, clubs and organizations are working to elevate Afghan voices to educate community members. One such effort — done collaboratively between Tufts’ Middle East Research Group (MERG) and SARC — has included a symposium covering U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, regional implications of Taliban control and the impact of Taliban control on Afghan women.

“Given the significance of this moment and the lack of adequate news coverage and discussion on campus and across the country, we are currently organizing a symposium for September 23rd and 24th to cover different aspects of the current situation," sophomore Zack Burpee and junior Carolina Hidalgo-McCabe, co-presidents of MERG, said on behalf of the club in an email to the Daily. "We wish to provide a forum for regional experts, activists, and most importantly Afghan voices to share their perspective with the Tufts community.”

Tufts' response to the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan has also drawn attention to how the university traditionally supports international students impacted by crises in their home countries, most recently the COVID-19 pandemic. Shiotani added that this most recent crisis is hardly the first mobilization of university resources to support the international community at Tufts.

Unfortunately, members of the international community can be and have been affected by different kinds of crises in their home countries – including natural disasters, civil unrest, and other humanitarian crises," Shiotani said. "More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has only magnified the effects of these events, while being a major threat in and of itself to the safety and wellbeing of our students and their family, friends, and neighbors. The International Center’s response in such situations varies somewhat depending [on] the specific situation, but we’ll always make efforts to reach out, and be available to advise and work with students either individually or collectively regarding their specific needs and concerns.” 

As Afghanistan enters its second month under Taliban control — with a mounting economic crisis — impacted South Asian students from the region have relied on one another for support.

There definitely has been discussion about the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan going on amongst Tufts students and specifically South Asian Tufts Students, most prominently on social media," SARC wrote. "As South Asian students, the crisis in Afghanistan certainly hits close to home for many of us and there is no one way to process it, but it is clear that most of us are committed to engaging in discourse surrounding the crisis and searching for ways to help."