US universities and their Russian and Ukrainian students are caught in a crisis

It’s a conflict unfolding thousands of miles away, but American colleges are grappling with the Russian invasion of Ukraine as some cut ties with Russian universities and businesses, and students of both countries find themselves caught in the middle of the crisis.

“Some of these students and scholars may be nearing the end of their study, research or training program, and may not be able to immediately return to their home countries during a war,” Ted said. Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, said in a letter to the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security on February 28, asking him to support Ukrainian students living in the United States and those trying to leave Ukraine.
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“Additionally, some students and scholars may have seen their financial circumstances suddenly change, and we are asking for accommodations for those who must work while they begin their studies in the United States,” Mitchell said.

More than 175 humanitarian and religious organizations have signed a letter calling on the Biden administration to grant temporary protected status to approximately 30,000 Ukrainians living in the United States and provide special assistance to Ukrainian students in the country.

There were about 1,700 Ukrainian students and 4,800 Russian students enrolled in US colleges and universities in the 2020-21 school year, according to the Institute of International Education. These are very small numbers compared to other countries with students in the United States; of the approximately 914,000 international students attending US colleges and universities in 2020-21, 317,000 were from China, 167,000 were from India, and 12,800 were from Nigeria.

But that hasn’t stopped one lawmaker, California Representative Eric Swalwell, from suggesting that deporting Russian students from the United States should be one of the sanctions against Russia.

“Frankly, I think closing their embassy in the United States, expelling all Russian students from the United States – all of that should be on the table,” Swalwell, a Democrat who sits on the US House Intelligence Committee, said in an interview. with CNN last week. “And Vladimir Putin must know every day that he is in Ukraine, there are more serious options that could arise.”

The proposal received bipartisan criticism, as many argued it would unfairly punish innocent students for the actions of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Jessica Gail, spokeswoman for Swalwell, said Thursday that the congresswoman believes the children of Russian oligarchs should have their student visas revoked, not that all Russian students studying in the United States should be sent home.

But it wouldn’t be the first time university students have been caught up in a global conflict. During World War II, West Coast Japanese American students were incarcerated, along with their families. The National Japanese American Student Relocation Council was formed to help students transfer to colleges in other parts of the country, but many saw their education interrupted anyway. The University of Southern California issued a public apology last year for discriminating against these students and refusing to release their transcripts to allow them to transfer.

As Russian attacks on Ukrainian cities began, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology ended its partnership with the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology in Moscow on February 25, citing “unacceptable military actions against Ukraine by the Russian government”.

“This step is a rejection of the Russian government’s actions in Ukraine,” MIT said in a statement, noting that it would affect some student research projects. “We take this with deep regret due to our great respect for the Russian people and our deep appreciation for the contributions of the many extraordinary Russian colleagues with whom we have worked.”

Similarly, the University of Colorado announced that it would end its investments in Russian companies “to show our support for the Ukrainian people”.

This decision echoes the decision of 155 universities to divest from South Africa by 1988 in opposition to apartheid.

“Like so many others, we watched with horror as this invasion brought senseless violence and aggression to the region,” University of Colorado President Todd Saliman said in a statement. “We are looking for ways to show our support for the Ukrainian people and believe that reducing our investments is the right thing to do.”


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