This March, Myanmar was in the middle of a coup. Hundreds of protestors were shot and killed, and there was a total communication blackout. Yet, a York University mathematics lecturer did not believe his student’s pleas or accommodate to their situation, threatening to fail him for the class. The lecturer has since been dismissed, and although the university claimed that the lecturer’s words do not reflect the university’s values, it raises the question of how international students are treated by educational institutions amidst the pandemic.
“We appreciate that 31 per cent of our students are international, and, while many are already here, some (e.g., those from Afghanistan or India) might not be able to make it to Canada for a few months,” states the University of Toronto Mississauga on the UTMTogether FAQ page. International students are often clumped together into a monolith. There is an immediate assumption that they are filthy rich and can hop on a $2000 dollar flight to Canada with no problem. But the reality is that within the international student body, there is a range of socio-political and financial situations. There are students who are in the middle of war zones, in Covid-19 red zones, and in dire financial situations. Not only are they expected to pay anywhere between $60,000 to $80,000 for a normal course load in a virtual setting, they also face unique adversities that are left unconsidered.
Last academic year, one of the most common complaints amongst students—domestic and international—was the professors’ refusal to record lectures. Students abroad had to stay awake through the night just to get the 10 per cent attendance mark and the overpriced breakout room discussion. The failure to accommodate students abroad is an exclusion and denial of accessible education. We hope that this year, students won’t be scared to fail their classes simply because of their geographic location, and that instructors can implement a pedagogy of kindness. Is it worth paying three or four times the tuition for half the education?