The smell of Egyptian food fill the room at the Egyptian Night event April 14. Student Wafaa Abu Elula looks around and sees a small percentage of non-international students.
“I would’ve liked to see more locals,” Abu Elula said. “I feel that I’m not welcomed. The school prides in diversity and its global citizenship program. But where is it? I don’t see it.”
Dean of Students Ted Hoef said student attendance at events has always been a challenge for Webster. He said it is due to a series of reasons: the majority of Webster’s students commute and have family responsibilities and jobs outside of campus.
“I really don’t think it’s as much lack of motivation as much as it’s just that other aspects of their lives are in competition,” Hoef said.
Graduate student Shikha Ralleigh said attracting non-international students is the hardest part for event organizers. Ralleigh is from India and is the vice president of SANGAM, an organization devoted to Indian culture.
“Many of the non-internationals are busier than us,” Ralleigh said. “This is one of the reasons for them, but it can’t be every time. I feel the international community is a separate student body embracing diversity amongst each other.”
Abu Elula said this matter extends outside the events and into the daily challenge of making friendships with non-international students.
“These events will bring us closer and it may be a cliche to say ‘we need to come together,’ but seriously, it will get rid of this barrier between the locals and the internationals,” Abu Elula said.
This academic year witnessed an increase in international oriented programming, according to Hoef. Hoef said more clubs have started, such as the Graduate Student Association (GSA) and SANGAM, and more events have been sponsored.
Hoef described Webster as one community with several strong subcommunities. Hoef said it is more rare that someone travels amongst those subcommunities and more common for people to spend the majority of their time within them.
“I think it’s not just international student events,” Hoef said. “People tend to gravitate to those things that they are most familiar with or know the most. Now that doesn’t mean we stop trying. We keep promoting events.”
Local senior Daniel von Seckendorff said he appreciates the differences between the cultures but does not feel he is the target audience at these events. He said event organizers need to take an extra step to capture the people outside of the presented culture.
“When I see [international] events like that going on, maybe I don’t want to screw it up by being the odd ball in there,” Seckendorff said.
To Ralleigh, both the international student body and the locals need to broaden their network and focus on the experience rather than the differences.
Ralleigh graduates this May and said she wishes she had more time to address this concern. She said it is great to challenge oneself and move out of a comfort zone. Both Ralleigh and Abuelula believe this is how people grow and evolve.
“International students might be a tiny percentage of Webster’s student body, but we put our heart and soul here,” Ralleigh said. “All my fellow international friends are working on campus with clubs. They are committed to make Webster grow. To bring change.”