Welcome to America? Facing – and Stopping – Discrimination

University of Oklahoma students rally outside the now closed University of Oklahoma's Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house  during a rally in reaction to an incident in which members of a fraternity were caught on video chanting a racial slur, in Norman, Okla., Tuesday, March 10, 2015. A moving truck can be seen at rear. Fraternity members were given a midnight Tuesday deadline to be moved out of the house. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
University of Oklahoma students rally outside the now closed University of Oklahoma's Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house during a rally in reaction to an incident in which members of a fraternity were caught on video chanting a racial slur, in Norman, Okla., Tuesday, March 10, 2015. A moving truck can be seen at rear. Fraternity members were given a midnight Tuesday deadline to be moved out of the house. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Diversity – both cultural diversity and diversity of experiences – is among the most positive qualities that international students bring when they come to the U.S. to study. International student bring new perspectives to their schools, and help raise awareness for other countries and cultures.

But this diversity – and the discrimination it can bring – can cause some international students to hesitate to come to the U.S.

Despite understanding for different cultures in the U.S., and despite the emphasis in the U.S. on equal rights and opportunities regardless of race, religion or any social status, some international students say they’ve experienced discrimination at their schools.

A study by Shideh Hanassah at UCLA surveyed 640 international students, and found that discrimination can extend to the students’ interactions with professors, university staff, classmates, and potential employers.

I spoke with an international student at Georgetown University who says she’s faced discrimination; because the topic is so sensitive, she wished to remain anonymous.

The international student said that she experienced discrimination in the classroom firsthand. During one class, a professor began talking about a viral online optical illusion where a dress appeared either blue and black, or gold and white, depending on the sensitivity of people’s eyes.

The students and several of her classmates were surprised when the professor told the Chinese students in the class: “You might see that the dress color is red…because you are Chinese.”

It might be that the professor wanted to make a joke, but the student felt that his attempt at humor was not only discriminatory, but inappropriate for international students.

Amanda Johnsen, a student from Denmark at Northern Virginia Community College, also saw discrimination when one of her fellow international students tried to register for a class. The professor told her friend that because she had a strong accent, he was not letting her take his class.

So what should you do if you or your friends feel that you’ve been discriminated against? First, talk to the professor, and explain your viewpoint. In some cases – like the joke to the Chinese students – the discrimination may be unintentional.

If that doesn’t work, many schools have counseling centers or student advocacy groups that you can talk to. You also might consider talking to someone from the International Student Association, who may be able to help.

Remember that international students are an important part of any school community. Don’t let anyone discriminate against you for your differences – instead, celebrate them!

Jeonghyun Kim is a VOA intern for the English web desk. She is from South Korea, and is currently pursuing her Masters in Professional Studies in Journalism at Georgetown University

Jeonghyun Kim