Supporting Our International Students

Dear Cooper Union Community, 

As the daughter of an immigrant, I have lived my life celebrating the strengths that come with being a person of multiple cultures. Our family’s own multiplicity of ethnicities naturally draws us to many more. It’s one of the many reasons I love New York City. Every part of my ethnic being feels at home and alive in New York, a place that has long prided itself on being a destination of choice for people from around the world, from all walks of life. As president of The Cooper Union, it has given me great joy to walk our hallways and, more recently, see our virtual classrooms filled with students from nearly 40 different countries. Our incoming class alone represents 14 different countries. I don’t have to read a book or a news article to know that one of our many strengths as a nation and as an institution is the diversity of countries, cultures, ethnicities, and races that make us who we are. I live that joy every day. While everyone’s experience is different, I also know from my own family’s experience the sense of isolation that can come from living in a culture that is different from one’s home country, the struggle that can come from having to learn a new language in a new country, the pain that can come from anti-immigrant sentiments, so it was particularly gut-wrenching to see U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) take action that introduces chaos and fear into the already uncertain situation of a global pandemic by indicating that it plans to issue a regulation in the coming weeks that would require students enrolled in online-only courses for Fall 2020 to depart the country without any clear direction or guidance on whether or when they can return. It is appalling, and it is cruel. 

We stand with our international students. We held emergency meetings this past week to develop a plan to pursue two paths simultaneously. First, as Vice President for Enrollment Mark Campbell shared on Thursday, we are committed to offering a hybrid education that supports all of our international students, including both those who are planning to remain in the country and those who plan to study from abroad. We have already redeployed staffing resources to accomplish this.  

Second, we are actively supporting the legal challenge being pursued in Massachusetts and California and anticipate that other states, including New York, may follow suit. We believe this latest action by ICE represents an arbitrary and capricious exercise of authority that must be stopped. In addition to putting our international students at risk, it undermines all of the careful planning we and other colleges and universities have done, in reliance on the guidance ICE provided this spring, to uphold our educational mission and protect the health and safety of our community, including those with health concerns. To this end, today we will file an amicus brief with a diverse group of educational institutions in support of the lawsuit filed by Harvard and MIT challenging the ICE directive. I have also signed onto the American Council on Education (ACE) letter to Congress requesting that Congress encourage the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to withdraw the ICE directive or, if DHS and ICE are unwilling to withdraw the directive, to pass legislation that grants needed flexibility for international students and their institutions. We expect that letter to be sent to Congress this week.  

While the legal arguments necessarily occupy our time and attention for the moment, this is about so much more than that. The Cooper Union is stronger with students who come from many places, who bring with them the experiences and perspectives of a life lived in many different kinds of communities, both within and outside of the U.S. The diversity of cultures, thought, and practice enriches our individual and collective experiences and brings depth, nuance, and richness to our understanding of our humanity and our inextricable connections to one another.

We are committed to supporting our international students through this, and the Office of Enrollment will continue to stay in touch with new options for students as the process and legal challenges unfold. If you have any questions about your individual situation, please contact Hala Alkasm, Assistant Director of International Student Advisement. Rest assured that The Cooper Union stands with you.

In solidarity, 
Laura Sparks   

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.