Supporting international students

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Photo courtesy of RIT Archive Collections

Students share a meal at International House, circa 1991

The presence of international students at RIT offers us opportunities to become acquainted with people from other cultures as they study and work alongside their American peers. In 1958, an article in a Rochester newspaper reported that 60 foreign-born students attended RIT, and that number has steadily increased. Archival records indicate there were 150 students from 46 countries in 1978, rising to 1,831 international students in 2011.

In 1957, International Club was established “to promote mutual understanding and friendship, introduce students to ‘American society,’” and sponsor lectures and discussions on U.S.-foreign relations such as the 1959 lecture, “Behind the Iron Curtain,” presented by University of Rochester Professor Arthur J. May. A new RIT International Student Association formed in 1978 with similar goals to organize social events, assist prospective students, reach out to new students, provide administrators and faculty with feedback, and partner with other international organizations in the Rochester community.

Although many services exist today that support international students with their transition to RIT and the United States, for many years these students made their way to RIT on their own. The admissions office assisted with completing required paperwork surrounding visas, but there was little assistance available for students to find adequate housing, take English classes and address unique academic needs. International students paid their tuition, purchased their plane tickets and arrived in Rochester, anticipating that all would proceed smoothly.

The Rochester Friendship Council lent support when students first arrived, helping them settle in and at times providing a place to stay, but coordinated and extensive services did not exist then. In 1977, a group of faculty and staff organized the RIT Foreign Student Committee to expand RIT’s services. Headed by NTID’s Ann Areson, the committee submitted formal recommendations to then-President Paul Miller, with a detailed outline of services needed and suggestions for implementation including plans to address simple issues like storing personal effects during academic breaks and planning welcome events to providing English classes and academic support services on campus.

By 1980, the Office of International Student Affairs opened under the direction of Barbara Letvin, and formal programs were poised to grow into the infrastructure that is in place today.