The International Student Advisory Board (ISAB) was recently recognized by the UI Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion with a Diversity Catalyst Award to honor the group’s work in promoting a diverse and inclusive campus community.
Current ISAB board members; Top row from left to right: Alaa, Krystal, Ayushi, Mary, Yeji; 2nd row from left to right: Edward, Tejaswini, Frankline, Gordon, Nafisa; 3rd row from left to right: Jeff, Redwan, Soumya, Mishma, Zephyr
Established in 2014, ISAB is a joint initiative between UI Student Government, Graduate & Professional Student Government, International Programs, and the Division of Student Life. Board members aim to provide a voice for international student concerns as well as advocate for the needs of international students—with the goal of creating a more inclusive campus environment and improving the experience of international students.
ISAB has been innovative in their ongoing programming, as well as initiatives necessitated by social distancing and the COVID pandemic.
Ongoing efforts include a Get to Know Us program which matches international student organizations with domestic student organizations in an effort to learn about each other, build relationships, and form connections for future collaboration. Additionally, a mentoring program was recently established to connect incoming international students with current international students. Mentors connect their mentees with campus resources and share information about their own experiences with cultural adjustment, academics, career exploration, and more. “The mentoring program is especially meaningful this year, given the fact that some of our new international students started their semester outside of the U.S. It provides a great opportunity for incoming international students outside of the U.S. to connect with fellow Hawkeyes—even at a distance,” said Shuhui Lin, ISAB advisor and international student support and engagement coordinator.
In addition to offering valuable programming, ISAB has worked with campus partners and administrators to advocate on behalf of international students—particularly given the challenges of COVID. “ISAB exemplifies many outstanding qualities, but the most distinctive pertain to advocacy for international students,” says Russ Ganim, associate provost and dean of International Programs. “The past few years have been difficult for international students on a number of levels. The pandemic, coupled with political uncertainty, has left many international students feeling isolated or, in some cases, persecuted. ISAB has provides a safe space for international students not just to express themselves, but to take action.”
An example of taking action is when ISAB partnered with the Undergraduate Student Government to provide free textbook shipping to international students who studied outside of the U.S. due to the pandemic. ISAB board members have also made efforts to understand national that impact international students, including a myriad of changes in recent years to immigration policies.
Redwan Bin Abdul Baten
Reflecting on the significance of the Diversity Catalyst Award, Redwan says, “When an award comes after months of hard work under difficult or even adverse conditions, it becomes something more. The Diversity Catalyst Award has boosted the morale of our board members, has strengthened our determination, and reinvigorated our efforts in advocacy and activism.”Looking to the future, ISAB members plan to advocate for international student representation in student government on campus. “Although international students form around 10 to 20 percent of the overall Hawkeye community, there are disparities in their representation in both Undergraduate Student Government and Graduate & Professional Student Government,” says outgoing ISAB Grad Board Chair Redwan Bin Abdul Baten. While ISAB worked with both levels of student government to pass legislation to remedy this situation, the group plans to focus on ensuring a smooth implementation of the legislation.