A Victory for International Students at Mills and Beyond

Oakland, CAJuly 16, 2020

A semicircle of international flags tower high against the backdrop of a blue sky. International students at Mills College and across the country have been granted a reprieve from the federal government’s sudden announcement early last week that would have required students from outside the United States to leave the country if they were enrolled in online-only courses in the fall.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had issued a new rule last Monday that would have required international students to take at least one in-person course in order to remain in the country for the fall term, a policy shift described by the American Council on Education as “arbitrary and capricious,” particularly as most colleges and universities plan fully online or hybrid models of instruction for the coming academic year.

“My first thought when I saw the new guidance last Monday was how misaligned it was with the current public health reality,” says Martha Levin, assistant director of international scholars and global learning at Mills College. “It also put current international students in a stressful and uncertain situation.”

While some international students enrolled at Mills returned home at the outset of the San Francisco Bay Area’s shelter-in-place order, many students from abroad remain on campus. Unable to travel due to border restrictions, health concerns, and other factors, they were among the one million international students in the United States who would have been impacted by these new guidelines, which may have included potential deportation. Meanwhile, those who had already returned home could have been denied reentry. But widespread opposition, including a high profile lawsuit led by higher education institutions, has led the federal government to withdraw the rule in an announcement made this past Tuesday. 

Mills was among 180 colleges and universities that supported the litigation leading to Tuesday’s victory. Under the leadership of Mills President Elizabeth L. Hillman, the College was one of the founding members of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, an association dedicated to increasing public understanding of how immigration policies impact students, campuses, and communities across the United States. Last Friday, the Presidents' Alliance issued an amicus brief in support of the legal battle led by Harvard and MIT, to which Mills was a signatory.

“Few government actions are capable of galvanizing this kind of immediate, powerful response from not only top-tier research universities, but small colleges like Mills, regional universities, and community colleges,” says President Hillman. “Protecting international and immigrant students matters to every institution of higher education, and Mills is proud to celebrate this affirmation that they belong.”

The College’s advocacy on behalf of its international student population did not stop there. As news of ICE’s guidelines became public, administrators began working closely with those who could have been impacted by the decision to provide case-by-case advising and course planning guidance, Meanwhile, others reached out to the office of Mills alumna and US Congresswoman Barbara Lee ’73 offering details about the potential impact the rule could have on Mills students.;

Viji Nakka-Cammauf, MA ’82, president of the Alumnae Association of Mills College (AAMC), met with international students via Zoom to hear firsthand about the challenges international students faced as a result of the pandemic, prompting the AAMC to launch a fundraising effort on behalf of Mills’ international students.

In less than two days, that AAMC campaign surpassed its fundraising goal, establishing a fund of over $16,000 to be used as direct grants to support food and housing costs for international students, who are ineligible for federal relief funds and are unable to work in the United States due to visa restrictions.

Says Nakka-Cammauf, “We want these students to know that they are treasured, they’re valued, and we want them here at Mills.”

About Mills College

Located in Oakland, California, Mills is a nationally renowned independent liberal arts college for women and gender non-binary students, with graduate programs for all genders. Ranked one of the top-tier regional universities in the West by U.S. News & World Report, Mills is also recognized as one of the Best 385 Colleges in the nation by The Princeton Review. As one of the most diverse liberal arts colleges in the country, Mills has a strong record of academic success with first-generation students, students of color, Latinx students, LGBTQ+ students, and other underrepresented students. The Mills experience is distinguished by small, interactive classes, one-on-one attention from exceptional faculty, a culture of creative experimentation, and cutting-edge interdisciplinary learning opportunities which empower students to make a statement in their careers and communities.