International students hold panel to discuss isolation, problems with integration at UB

Panelists to discuss ways UB can better integrate students


The Institute of International Education recognized UB for the 15th consecutive year as a top host university for international students, but some feel it hasn’t done enough to integrate these students into American university life.

A class of international students is searching for solutions.

Students in the English Language Institute (ELI) will culminate semester-long research on integration and isolation at UB through a series of panels this week. Groups of students will present on a series of topics related to international student isolation and provide possible solutions, including the use of sports, clubs and food to bridge the divide between domestic and international students.

Presentations will take place Tuesday, Dec. 5 in 102 Clemens Hall from 2-3:20 p.m. and on Dec. 7 in 332 Clemens Hall from 2-3:20 p.m. and are open to the public.

ELI adjunct instructor Aimee McCrady was inspired to assign this project to her spoken English class after a decade of teaching international students and observing the rift firsthand.

“I wanted to take topics that were personal and relevant that they could do research for,” McCrady said. “They have to do interviews and surveys and present on it. These panels are focused on different areas that fall under the umbrella of integration versus isolation, how to get through four years at UB by making friendships and getting involved in networking and not isolating yourself.”

The Spectrum gained national recognition for its reporting last spring on what McCrady calls the “elephant in the room” at UB –– the lack of integration and subsequent isolation some international students feel.

The problem is compounded by a decline in international student enrollment across the U.S. in the wake of President Donald Trump’s tough immigration policies.

Last October, a committee of UB professors and administrators formed to address these concerns and produced a 160-page report with over 50 suggestions to address the problem. McCrady was inspired by the committee’s work and wanted to address it in her own classes.

“This is a problem that really touches me as an ELI instructor,” McCrady said. “We used to ask ourselves, ‘How can we address this?’ and at certain points we were thinking, ‘Maybe this is too big. This is just something that is never going to change.’ But I felt like if there can be committees on the subject, why can’t we think about some of these issues and how we can change them at the classroom level?”

When McCrady first asked her class of international freshmen to think about issues of isolation and the barriers they may face, many were surprised to hear it was a problem.

But as the class spent more time thinking about various aspects of college life, this changed, according to McCrady.

“They’ve only been here two or three months, and I think they were surprised by this issue,” McCrady said. “But then they begin to see, they’re not going to be able to get over language barriers or cultural barriers if some of these issues aren’t addressed.”

Her students are working on their own issues with cultural and language barriers. The class is a requirement for students struggling with English proficiency.

Throughout the semester, the students conducted interviews and surveys to better understand the problems their international peers face. They looked at language barriers to mental health resources, limited authentic food within meal plans and other cultural differences within college life.

McCrady hopes the discussions will prompt administrators and staff to continue to think about the issue of integration on campus and show this issue isn’t going to be resolved on its own.

Sarah Crowley is the senior news editor and can be reached at