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Rationale for InterLink

If forty percent of our campus is hurting, all of us, the entire MIT community, is hurting.
-- MIT Chancellor Phillip Clay

Rapid and substantial changes in visa laws and regulations have left international students, postdoctoral fellows, visiting scientists, exchange visitors and international faculty with a sense of anxiety and isolation. As recently reported in The Tech, approximately forty percent of all graduate students and nine percent of all undergraduate students are not US citizens or permanent residents. Approximately thirty percent of the faculty were born and raised outside of the US and most members of the MIT community have been immigrants or are descendants of immigrants. In the post-9/11 United States, the political climate has changed profoundly towards foreign nationals and nationals alike. Recent changes in laws and regulations have left the international community at MIT feeling isolated and sometimes distanced from the MIT community. Under today’s circumstances, unfortunately, past experiences of living in the US as a foreign national are not entirely helpful in dealing with this newly experienced anxiety exacerbated by the absence of peer experience.

New regulations and stricter laws have caused (and will cause) sudden personal hardship for some community members. In such cases, the affected unfortunate individual finds him/herself in “uncharted territory”, where not much peer support is available in dealing with the situation. MIT students, staff, faculty and administration are trying to provide some support but most of the MIT campus is still uninformed, unaffected and unable to support the international MIT community. Given this situation, many students have expressed the wish for a community forum wherein the entire MIT community can come together and share experiences. These experiences would not only empower the community members to deal with INS/visa-related issues, but will also help build a stronger, inter-connected and supportive network within the Institute.

The reasons for the formation of a network for international community fall under three broad categories:

  1. Many international and American MIT community members feel that there is some lack of information on rapid changes in visa laws and regulations. Given that this lack of information can lead to a loss of legal status in the US, possibly threatening the continuation of studies in the US, the well-informed members of the MIT community are quite concerned about this issue. Several offices at MIT have the official responsibility of conveying news to international community members but they also depend on various student, ethnic and intercultural groups to convey their messages and make them ‘stick’ with the community. Unfortunately, sometimes this leads to the spread of urban myths and rumors that are not factual.
  2. While we continue to hear of individual cases of community members whose visas were delayed or refused, there is no coordinated effort to provide emotional and peer support for these individuals. In some rare cases family members of ‘delayed’ individuals are left in the US and may require additional support. In other cases, it may be helpful to have a network of friends as support while undergoing INS-related investigations. If left stranded in another country, or detained, the value of such a peer-support network grows tremendously. Needless to say, the entire MIT community needs to be informed about situations that affect their community members, to increase understanding of the difficulties being faced by their colleagues and to enhance the sense of community at MIT.
  3. While homeland security measures need to be adhered to and should not be avoided, it is also important to maintain and support the terrific community that is MIT. International students, researchers, faculty members and administrators have been a tremendous asset to the institute, to the local Massachusetts community and to the country. There is a need to highlight those achievements on a regular basis to create a space at the Institute where international students feel comfortable and welcome.

Description of InterLink services:

1. Information dissemination

InterLink will be a group run by and for the MIT community. It will be open to all members of the community: faculty, staff, postdoctoral fellows and students; national and international. Interlink, as evident by its name, will provide a forum and a space to link members of the MIT community to each other, with the aim of bringing the international community tighter into the main campus and promoting their sense of belonging to the institute in these times when there is an increased distance between those who hold US citizenship and those who don’t. Each department will ideally have at least one InterLink member as well as any group on campus that expresses the wish to have an InterLink member. The main task of InterLink members will be to help distribute official written information prepared by the ISO and related offices about visa/INS rules and regulations and other news regarding laws and regulations affecting the MIT community. As a body of volunteers, InterLink members will poster information material on notice boards (local to their segment of the MIT community) and forward official broad-cast emails to their research groups or living groups (this will broaden the distribution of mass emails and also increase community-wide awareness about international student issues). Members will also distribute any further written material that the MIT administration feels valuable to be distributed (such as INS change of address forms, notification of IAP lectures and workshops etc.). In addition, Interlink will be the eyes and ears for departments and the MIT administration. Interlink will be in close contact with MIT community members and relay back information regarding specific student experiences to increase the Institute’s awareness of student concerns and issues.

InterLink will be an outreach group in nature, modeled after the MIT medical center’s MedLink program. Danielle Ashbrook-Guichard, the director of the ISO, is fully aware of this proposal and in full support of this effort.

2. Community coffee hours

InterLink will host a weekly coffee hour open to the entire MIT community where the community can share their feelings and experiences. Great effort will be made to specifically invite other student groups to attend these coffee hours to familiarize them with interlink and to create possibilities of collaborations on future seminars, publications etc. Occasionally these events will also be used to highlight significant contributions to MIT and to the US by international MIT alumni, faculty members and other community members. The coffee hours will essentially be a way to enhance the community feeling at MIT, to promote excellence and to provide a forum for candid discussion on how international community members at MIT can best integrate into the Institute and exceed their own achievement standards.

3. Networking and visibility

InterLink members will be strongly encouraged to actively and visibly become a part of different sections of the MIT community. Interlink members will be a support group for two-way communication between the administration and the MIT community. While all existing communication channels have tremendous value, Interlink will enhance the ability of the Institute to accurately and quickly collect and distribute information. As a representative body of volunteers on campus, Interlink officers will remain in close contact with graduate student and undergraduate student administrators, department heads, Deans’ offices and student groups across campus.

InterLink Committee Composition:

1. Executive committee

InterLink will have an executive committee, with a president, vice president, secretary, web master and treasurer. Anyone who wishes to be an InterLink member and who attends weekly info-session meetings with the ISO for the duration of 3 months will be an InterLink member. To remain a member no more than 3 consecutive info-session meetings may be missed. Officers will be elected January 31st each year (if this date falls on a weekend, elections will be held the Monday following the weekend) by the majority of a vote by all present InterLink members. InterLink will seek ASA recognition.

2. Board of directors

InterLink will be advised by a board of directors consisting of 14 members. Directors will be appointed by the officers of InterLink on June 30th each year. There will be 2 undergraduate directors, 2 graduate directors, 2 postdoctoral fellows, 2 alumni, 2 staff, 2 faculty members, the director of the ISO, and a MIT medical mental health representative. The board of directors will meet quarterly and advise the executive committee on broader issues affecting the MIT community. It is anticipated that the board of directors will have a broader vision of matters that affect the MIT community than the executive committee. Therefore the board of directors will have to approve the allocation of resources. The board of directors is also urged to represent InterLink on the MIT campus as well as give input about community concerns to InterLink.

Reporting:

1. Campus publications:

In order to keep InterLink visible to the MIT community and to increase accountability, InterLink will seek a standing column in the Graduate Student Newsletter (monthly newsletter) and will seek frequent publications in The Tech and TechTalk. Publications will include personal accounts of international community members of their experiences and statistics provided by the MIT administration to increase the awareness of international students about the scope of changing visa/INS rules and regulations. Knowing that 100 students of almost 1600 international students who traveled in the summer of 2002 had a substantial delay will lend facts to the discussion about issues of international community members. Additionally, the publications will also be used to highlight the role of international researchers and students at MIT and to promote a better knowledge about the various nationalities and cultural groups that exist at MIT.

2. Monthly seminars

To increase the flow of information to the MIT community, InterLink will host a monthly seminar series appealing to the MIT community as a whole, not just the international part of the MIT community. Seminars in addition to coffee hours will serve as an effort to reach out to the non-international part of the MIT community. Speakers will be chosen on their merit to MIT community concerns. At every seminar, Interlink will seek input from the audience using questionnaires asking for suggestions of future seminar topics and speakers and to assess satisfaction of the audience about the presented seminar. The following is a list of suggested topics and speakers:

Faculty panel on the contributions of international community members at MIT:

  • Prof. Rodney Brooks (MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab)
  • Prof. Mario Molina, Nobel Laureate, Institute Professor
  • Prof. Wolfgang Ketterle, Nobel Laureate
  • Prof. Hargobind Khorana, Nobel Laureate

Legal Rights of visitors to the US

  • American Civil Liberties Union Massachusetts: Exec. Director Carol Rose

Contributions of International MIT community at local, regional and global level:

  • Keenan Sahin, Alum, Founder of Sahin Networks
  • Shaheen Husain, Alum, Founder of MIT Arab Alumni Association
  • Prof. Nouebar Afeyan, Lecturer in Sloan School

Importance of international research collaborations:

  • David Marks (Alliance for Global Sustainability)
  • Prof. Edward Crawley (Executive Director, Cambridge MIT Institute)
  • Prof. Nicholas Negroponte (vice-chairman of the Asia Media Lab)

Timeline:

Formation over February 2003:

  • Initial InterLink members will be self-appointed
  • Info sessions will start mid January
  • Election of InterLink officers by all attending MIT community members on January 31st
  • appointment of board of directors who will serve until June 2003

March 2003:

  • weekly coffee hour will start
  • weekly info-sessions with ISO will start

Evaluation:

Attendance at coffee hours will be used as a measure of interest and outreach to the MIT community. The size of the InterLink membership will be a measure of interest and need of InterLink. Attendance at seminars will be an indicator of how InterLink manages to engage the MIT community as a whole. Much of InterLink’s success will be hard to measure. InterLink will be truly successful if there is open discussion about and within the international community of MIT. If, as a result of InterLink’s intervention, international community members stay in legal standing and therefore will not have to leave the US, the overall objective of informing the community will be reached, even though it will not be assessable.

Budget:

The budget proposed will fund InterLink for the duration of 6 months. Interlink will seek ASA recognition and will seek further funding (in fall 2003) from the GSC funding board.

item - amount - times needed - subtotal

coffee hour - $150 - 26 - $3,900

discretionary money for publications - $1,000 - 1 - $1,000

seminars - $200 - 6 - $1,200

total $6,100

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Copyright © 2002, InterLink. Last modified on Friday, 21-Mar-2003 18:25:17 EST by interlink-www@mit.edu.