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USC must support its Chinese international students through cross-cultural education

September 24, 2020

Originally published by the Daily Trojan on September 24, 2020. Written by Valerie Wu. 

Amid deteriorating United States-China relations in recent months, hostility against Chinese students in the U.S. has reached new highs. This decline in relations has manifested not only in daily life but in higher education as well. Recently, a Syracuse University chemistry professor was placed on administrative leave for allegedly writing “Wuhan flu” and “Chinese Communist Party Flu” in his syllabus notes. It was an incident students said reflected yet another example of racism against Chinese students during the coronavirus pandemic.

In order to take steps toward bridging the divide between the U.S. and China, USC must tailor its education accordingly. That includes being receptive to all forms of cross-cultural exchange on a University-wide scale. Cross-cultural education is not only an integral part of supporting Chinese international students at USC, but it also enriches our understanding of the cultures that shape USC as a global university.

The larger anti-China narrative has been exacerbated by racist, anti-Chinese rhetoric concerning the coronavirus, including the use of the terms “kung flu” and “Chinese virus.” Chinese international students are particularly vulnerable to this rhetoric. According to a recent BBC article by journalist Zhaoyin Feng, many Chinese international students have been shocked by the racial harassment they have experienced in the wake of the pandemic. With many of these students left unable to return home due to travel restrictions, they often feel isolated from both countries, unsure of where to turn.

Furthermore, as evidenced by the Trump Administration’s decision to shut down the Fulbright scholarship programs in China, cross-cultural education is often one of the first scapegoats for political tensions. Consequently, USC must ensure that it is facilitating platforms for open discussion about the U.S.-China relationship in consideration of its status as a global university.

For one, the USC US-China Institute is an acclaimed part of the University that aims to cultivate global forums for dialogue about the evolving, multi-faceted U.S.-China relationship. In addition to offering China-centered public programming, the Institute also provides digital resources dedicated to a greater understanding of the country from political economics to cultural practices. Professors, especially those teaching courses with a global focus, should clearly advertise these opportunities to their students.

Making attendance at the US-China Institute’s events available for extra credit, for example, could provide an incentive for students to improve their own cross-cultural understanding of China. Such an initiative from professors would demonstrate that Chinese culture and perspectives at USC are valued and integral to the University’s educational foundations.

Moving forward, USC must also welcome conversations between Chinese international students and U.S. students amid the decline of the U.S.-China relationship. Inevitably, it may be more challenging to facilitate these conversations over online learning, but it is still important that these platforms are made accessible and visible to USC students.

The Chinese-English Language Exchange, for instance, is a student organization at USC that aims to provide a shared space for students to practice not only their English and Chinese skills but also develop a nuanced understanding of Chinese perspectives. It is essential that the University actively publicize organizations such as this to the student body so that students are made aware of the many benefits that a multi-dimensional education can bring.

While it is unlikely that every class across the University can implement such an endeavor in their class structure, a common theme of cross-cultural education must be incorporated in all courses, regardless of content. U.S. students ought to be more open to perspectives shared in class that are not necessarily centered around the Western gaze. Likewise, Chinese international students can listen to the perspectives of their U.S. student counterparts and respond accordingly. Such sharing can illustrate the commonalities between cultures and create a space to openly talk about differences — a key element of conflict resolution on both domestic and global scales.

By fully considering its capacity for nuanced perspectives on China, USC can place itself in a position to enact change not only domestically but on the international stage as well.