RISD Anti-Racism Coalition (risdARC) is dedicated to combating our institution’s prolonged history of anti-Blackness, marginalization, and discrimination along with the intersections of global systems of oppression affecting our community. We support and advocate for the needs of all students of color regardless of ethnicity, race, disability, gender, or sexuality.

International Students’ Demands

July 14 2020

Written By:
Qian (Joss) Liao
Yuqing Liu
Yiwei Chen
Victoria Liang
Mindy Kang
Grace Chen
Aurelia Liu
With invaluable contribution from RISD Anti-Racism Coalition (risdARC)

Sent to:
President Rosanne Somerson
Chair of the Board of Trustees Michael Spalter
And members of the Board of Trustees
Provost Kent Kleinman
Vice and Associate Provosts
The Center for Social Equity + Inclusion (SEI)
Office of International Student Services (OISS)
Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)
RISD Career Center
RISD Global 
We would first like to express our gratitude for the President’s office and the OISS office for facilitating the in-time response in support of the international students community regarding the new ICE policy. Thank you for coordinating effectively between several offices and supporting our safety, wellbeing and residency as international students in this time of many crises. While many things are still left in the air, we deeply appreciate your assuring support, especially the webinar OISS hosted yesterday, which was in-time, helpful and informative.

We are writing this letter in hope that true inclusion and support for the international students community can happen around the campus, not only in the time of the pandemic and social movements but also reflected on the level of structural change. On July 6th, the Department of Homeland Security announced changes to the Student & Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) which directly endanger international students at the Rhode Island School of Design under the current Fall 2020 COVID-19 response plan. The announcement stated that nonimmigrant students taking a fully virtual course-load may not remain in the United States. This policy not only directly threatens the safety and wellbeing of international students but spikes profound political and cultural implications way beyond the legislative level. ICE’s published ruling encourages discrimination towards immigrants and has a profound cultural impact for it encourages xenophobia and racism, causing an enormous amount of stress and anxiety in our community.

Impact of International Students at RISD

According to the OISS 2019 Student Statistics and RISD Institutional Data and Services, in 2019 there were 966 Non-resident international students out of the 2,009 students enrolled at RISD. That amounts to 48% of the student body who are not allowed to receive financial aid, at an institution that has a tuition dependency percentage of 85% according to the April 16, 6 p.m. Student Alliance Town Hall* (00:06:11).

Historically, international students have been repeatedly exploited for financial benefit without assured residency beyond their education. They spend exorbitant amounts of money in able to access RISD’s education and reside in Providence, yet they are met with companies that refuse to sponsor visas, unstable and ever-changing immigration regulations, and experiences of the combination of racism and xenophobia. The following list includes, but is not limited to, the policies established at RISD which work in conjunction with larger US policy to ultimately fail our students who come from outside the United States:


  1. International students, by virtue of not being eligible for financial aid or need-based scholarships, contribute more than any other student group in terms of tuition fees, providing funding required for the subsidization of tuition for United States citizens (which, amidst the 3.8% tuition increase, has allowed for a 23% increase in funding for need-based scholarships and graduate fellowships), and allowing RISD to continue working towards the 2020-2027 RISD Strategic Plan.
  2. International students pay taxes on our income, despite the inability to reap any of the benefits that are provided with a U.S. citizenship status.
  3. International students must contribute annually to the mandated I-901 SEVIS entry fee, as well as fees for visa application and renewal.
  4. The precarity and vulnerability of international students’ situations are being exploited by the United States administration to force a premature re-opening of institutions of higher education.
  5. International students are being further exploited by the premature opening of campus, thus jeopardizing the lives of both current and incoming students who are undocumented, formalizing immigration statuses, or visiting on visas.


  1. In addition to providing essential financial support to RISD, international students provide a diverse array of perspectives necessary for the advancement of discourse within its programs of design, fine arts, liberal arts, and foundation studies.
  2. The perspectives of international students are essential in de-centering the Eurocentric focus of education in art, architecture, engineering, and the humanities, and will be key in RISD’s movement towards becoming an anti-racist institution. RISD’s intent of diversifying the faculty and student constituency serves no purpose if no accountability and action is taken for the institution’s unethical pedagogical practices.

Potential Consequences Faced by the International Student Community

Since the federal government’s announcement, neither President Somerson nor members of the RISD administration have publicly condemned the ban. The following are a list of the consequences that will be faced by the international student community in the absence of immediate action from the RISD administration, under RISD’s current plan for the Fall 2020 semester:
- The F-1 Visa will not be issued to incoming first-year international students.
- International students currently residing in the US will be forced to leave the country, regardless of whether or not they are able to enter their country of permanent residence/ “home” country (due to financial reasons, travel restrictions, etc.) in the case that RISD switches to entirely online-learning.
- In many cases, one’s “home” country and country of citizenship are different, meaning that COVID-based travel restrictions (i.e. citizen-only entry) will force students to return to countries with which they have no connection.
- Students forced to travel will face increased exposure to COVID-19, exponentially increasing likelihood of infection.
- In the case of being unable to leave the United States, students face prosecution, deportation, or detention, all of which will be used to justify restrictions to future entry into the United States.
- Potential exposure to future governmental policies actively harming the safety and well-being of the international students community and very possibly a nation-wide phenomenon of xenophobia towards international people.

List of Demands

The following are a list of demands to be addressed by the RISD administration. The imminent situation that international students are currently facing is rooted from a variety of both structural and surface-level issues regarding RISD’s support system for their international student population. Given the imminent consequences of inaction, we ask that you act with efficiency and urgency. We’d like to stress again the cultural and political baggage the ICE policy carries exceeds far beyond legislative issues and should be responded with school-wide attention and urgency.

Immediate Action, specifically in response to the July 6th ICE/Homeland Security executive order:

    01. Denounce the ICE Executive Order restricting F-1 and M-1 student visas     through public channels, including, but not limited to:          
        - The Rhode Island School of Design Website
        - Any and all avenues available to the RISD Communications Team
        - Public news/media outlets including but not limited to the school
          and the president’s social media account and each department’s
            social media account.

02. Announce detailed and concrete course plans for the entire school year on all administrative levels: school level, departmental level and course level. Active contributions and changes should be conducted to best accommodate international students when facing unsettling shifts in policies. Each professor should be encouraged to reach out to their group of students with adjusted syllabus and planning, as this is a challenging time that requires more cooperation and preparation than usual. Wintersession, which, as of now, is set for a completely online curriculum, becomes extremely troubling in the wake of ICE’s new policies and we demand the school-wide announcement on concrete plans for the entire year. Department-wise, as far as we know, the department of Architecture has published specific plans on future scenarios, and we demand all departments do that.

03. Provide financial aid, travel funds, and emergency funds for international students in need with financial transparency. Please announce the exact amount of financial aid dedicated for international students in detail and the office in charge of this matter. The financial stress international students are facing now—including traveling, resettling, and general cost of living— is unprecedented because for most students, there is no local home. We urge the school to be transparent about how much money will go into supporting financially challenged international students and how this money will be distributed. This will ensure a smoother transitioning process if relocation is needed again instead of leaving us to wade through the swamp of worries.

    04. Prioritize international students’ access to on-campus housing, including, but not limited to:
-Current students whose apartment leases have been affected as a direct result of the SEVP announcement
-Students for whom travel to their home country poses a significant financial burden, or who face travel restrictions and are unable to enter their country of permanent residence
-Students for whom a return to their home country would entail reduced internet access, exposure to political volatility, health risks, drastic timezone shifts, and/or other disruptions to education

05. Compile resources for financial, psychological, and administrative support specifically for international students, including, but not limited to: 
      - Specialized counseling services with professionals that have strong experience working with international students and non-US citizens. As a start, we demand at least half of the counselors at CAPS (Counseling and Psychological Services) have international backgrounds, in response to the massive international student population, which makes up half of the student body.
      - Scholarships, grants, and other forms of financial support specifically applicable for the international students community, as many are only applicable to US citizens.
      - Alternative academic resources such as shop access, lectures and in-person classes for international students who will be conducting classes fully online back home. Several colleges including Parsons and Cornell College of Architecture have established partnerships with universities globally to provide students with the option to study on-campus in another country, ensuring the academic quality of international students out of the States. We urge you to consider the establishment of similar alternative programs, perhaps through RISD Global, as a way to provide more flexibility and a better learning experience for us.

Structural Action

It’s noteworthy that our demands for structural action should be enacted with the same immediacy as the demands of Immediate Action, following up with public announcements executed with efficiency and transparency to the entire school, including local students, international students, faculty and staff members.

  1. Increase funding for OISS (the Office of International Student Services), which consists of merely 4 staffs, to receive more funding, human resources, and credit for helping 48% percent of the student body to study in the US legally. Establishing a support system via OISS for international students is a prerequisite for any other demand that international students have. We need a fully staffed and fully funded group of DSO (designated school officials) who have enough knowledge to help international students to help fulfill our demands. Only these professional people, who were trained by the government on immigration law including ICE policies, are legally allowed to represent international students (I-20 form, page 1, section: “School Attestation”).
  2. Maintain a sanctuary campus and adopt policies that will protect students and other RISD community members who are undocumented immigrants, and thus guarantee the privacy of immigrant students and their statuses. It is essential that RISD strives to protect all members of the international community, including those who are undocumented immigrants. These should include clear policies that implement:
  3. Protection of students’ personal records and information, as well as limiting ICE and Department of Homeland Security’s access to student information for civil immigration purposes
  4. Refusal of ICE to physical access to any on-campus spaces (including studios, classrooms, dorms, and offices) without a judicial warrant
  5. Include international students into SEI’s agenda. The Center for Social Equity + Inclusion, which “aims at engaging and addressing issues of social equity and inclusion on our campus”, should actively acknowledge the struggles specific to the international students community and include rights, safety, and well being of international students into its consideration. Shared struggles such as immigration, culture shock and the prolonged period of cultural assimilation should not be reduced to the legislative office, and the sufferings most international students go through in this process should not be ignored. To open up this conversation, we are happy to work with the SEI office in the future to address situations specific to international students to alleviate individual stress.

The following list includes our demands for the SEI to work with towards a truly inclusive campus:

  • Consider global politics and diverse cultural backgrounds of the international students community on everything the SEI work with, including but not limited to, invitation of guest lecturers, recruitment of new faculty members, development of new academic programs and activities, etc. As a start, we demand a minimum of 3 non-Western international speakers each semester for school-wide lectures to address the massive international population here.
  • A comprehensive two-way guide for US students to gain awareness of their potentially exclusive behaviors & for international students to understand the dedication, effort and sacrifice they’re expected to make for studying in a foreign country. We hope this guide will foster communication and understanding between both sides, instead of expecting the international students to “change” and endure all the emotional labour.
  • Include resources specifically for the international students community on the resources page of the SEI website including cultural assimilation, immigration and xenophobia.


When RISD campus was shut down in March, students were left with tremendous stress and anxiety in the process of moving out, traveling, and adjusting to online learning, all in an extremely short time due to the sudden notice from the school. While we completely understand the difficult scenario and the efforts that were made, we have to admit that the lack of both material and financial support from school in such an emergency worsened the situation. International students were faced with even more stress on traveling due to their countries' pandemic policies (travel bans, limited flights, etc) and the higher cost of traveling.

These demands are all for ensuring the safety, emotional wellbeing and educational experience of international students, a community often neglected by the school. Please enact the Immediate Actions as soon as possible to ensure minimum safety and security of the international students. Please enact the Structural Actions with the same urgency and emphasis to ensure that international students are supported with the resources and attention that matches their contributions. We would also like to stress again, that only when OISS becomes a fully staffed and sufficiently funded support system, will international students be represented by qualified people who have the legal knowledge on immigration law and ICE policies in the future.

These past troubling scenarios should not be overlooked and the school should make an effort to avoid similar scenarios from reoccurring. We appreciate all the effort that RISD has made to foster a safer, more supportive and more inclusive campus for international students. We wish our demands and concerns will be heard. We look forward to seeing RISD taking actions for international students in this specific time of crisis and we hope RISD will take a step forward to protect and support our community, which is both substantial of the school and an extremely vulnerable population in time of a crisis. We hope to receive a public response from you no later than July 20th.


A group of students advocating for Inclusion of International Students at RISD

Qian (Joss) Liao, Glass ‘21 
Yuqing Liu, Sculp ‘22
Yiwei Chen, Intar ‘22 
Victoria Liang, Arch ‘21 
Mindy Kang, Tex ‘22 
Grace Chen, Illustration ‘22
Aurelia Liu, Painting ‘22 
With invaluable contribution from RISD Anti-Racism Coalition (risdARC)