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MIT staff blogger Chris Peterson SM '13

Reaffirming our support for international students by Chris Peterson SM '13

In January, President Trump signed Executive Order 13769, or “travel ban,” which, among other things, suspended entry to the United States for residents of certain countries. This past weekend, a group of universities including MIT filed an amicus brief in federal court opposing the travel ban. The brief argues that international students and faculty, including (but not limited to) those from the countries affected by the ban, contribute to our campus and the world afterward, and that the travel ban harms students, faculty, scholars, and universities.

Since January, when the order was signed, we have heard many questions from prospective international students. Some of these questions have come from citizens of the countries covered by the ban; others have come from international students from countries not (yet) affected by the ban, but who worry about anti-international sentiment and are reconsidering their decision to apply to universities in America (according to one recent survey, international applications are down at 40% of responding American universities).

I understand the concerns; these are uncertain times. However, I wanted to share this brief to reaffirm our support for international students (as we did before for our undocumented students), and to communicate that nothing about our policies, procedures, or plans to recruit, admit, and enroll international students has changed.

I also wanted to share this letter that President Reif sent to the community in January that references MIT’s mission to “best serve the nation and the world.” I quote:

MIT is profoundly American. The Institute was founded deliberately to accelerate the nation’s industrial revolution. With classic American ingenuity and drive, our graduates have invented fundamental technologies, launched new industries and created millions of American jobs. Our history of national service stretches back to World War I; especially through the work of Lincoln Lab, we are engaged every day in keeping America safe. We embody the American passion for boldness, big ideas, hard work and hands-on problem-solving. Our students come to us from every faith, culture and background and from all fifty states. And, like other institutions rooted in science and engineering, we are proud that, for many of our students, MIT supplies their ladder to the middle class, and sometimes beyond. We are as American as the flag on the Moon.

At the same time, and without the slightest sense of contradiction, MIT is profoundly global. Like the United States, and thanks to the United States, MIT gains tremendous strength by being a magnet for talent from around the world. More than 40% of our faculty, 40% of our graduate students and 10% of our undergraduates are international. Faculty, students, post-docs and staff from 134 other nations join us here because they love our mission, our values and our community. And – as I have – a great many stay in this country for life, repaying the American promise of freedom with their energy and their ideas. Together, through teaching, research and innovation, MIT’s magnificently global, absolutely American community pursues its mission of service to the nation and the world.


I am also inspired by MIT’s long history of educating international students during moments of cosmopolitanism and moments of nativism alike. I often introduce my information sessions by referencing Yuliya’s research on the earliest international students to study at MIT, including the many Chinese students who found a home here during the Chinese Exclusion Act of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Personally, so many of my friends, classmates, professors, and colleagues at MIT have come from all over the world; I have learned so much from them. I hope the thousands of international citizens studying, researching, and teaching at MIT, and in Boston more generally, feel as at home here as we are grateful they have made here their home, for however long they choose to stay.

It’s hard to know, at this point, what will happen with the travel ban, or to the people affected by it. What I do know is that MIT, as an institution, is working hard on behalf of our current and prospective international students, because we know what they mean to our institution, our community, and our world. This is the case made by the amicus brief, and it is the one MIT will continue to make, for as long as necessary.