ICE order is reckless and inconsiderate: Harvard Student Body President James Mathew

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James Mathew is Student Body President at Harvard University. Photo courtesy of James Mathew.

NEW YORK – James Mathew is a rising senior and Student Body President at Harvard University, originally from the Greater Chicago Area.

Mathew concentrates in Sociology and Global Health & Health Policy and plans to pursue a JD/MBA joint degree program. He is an entrepreneur, policy analyst, and creative thinker with a consistent focus on effecting social change. He is the co-founder of Got Food?, a mobile application that assists the food insecure population in locating nearby feeding sites across 27 states.

Mathew has interned at the National Minority Quality Forum and within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, focusing on minority health outcomes and disparities. Currently, he is a fellow of Converse Inc., helping to develop and launch a social impact program aimed at global youth.

Excerpts of an exclusive interview with Mathew, on the ICE directive on international students that they would have to leave the United States if the college or university they attend offers only online courses in the fall:

What’s your reaction to the ICE order on international students, on F-1 and M-1 visa?

The ICE order is reckless and inconsiderate. The Trump administration is pushing schools to reopen this fall, despite national records for the number of new COVID-19 infections. This order is an indirect measure to force the hands of university leaders, who must now consider the safety of their entire student bodies alongside this new undue burden placed on their international students. This incredibly difficult predicament sets universities up to fail in way or another.

How are you and others on the Harvard student body council helping international students in this hour of crisis?

When Harvard announced its fall decision, a group of more than 200 students, including myself and the Student Body Vice President, organized to draft a petition. The petition advocates for increased institutional support across several areas, including the well-being and protection of international students. Ideally, Harvard will win its lawsuit against ICE, temporarily preventing the enforcement of the order. If Harvard is not successful, the institution must do everything it can to ensure equitable access to education for international students. We have suggested several models, including the ability for international students to enroll in an in-person low-density class at Harvard, or the option for these students to cross-register at other local institutions that will not be operating fully online. In the event that Harvard is unable or unwilling to qualify as a hybrid institution, forcing our international peers to leave the US, additional financial and mental health resources must be prepared.

Harvard and MIT have sued ICE. However, if the ICE order stays, what’ll be the impact on Harvard and the businesses in the neighborhood without international students?

Approximately 12% of Harvard College’s student body is international students. Across the University, this percentage is closer to 20%. The potential impact on the local economy is certainly not negligible.

You are a student of global health and health policy yourself. What’s your perception of opening up the campus for in-person classes, considering the pandemic situation at present?

With the current increasing rates of new infections, it behooves us to be conservative. Though a slow opening of campuses is unideal for students, health takes priority. If in-person classes cannot be pursued safely and within public health guidelines, they should not be made available.

Faculty nationwide have called for online education, as many older teachers and professors fear for their safety if forced to teach classes on campus. Do you agree with this?

Just as students ask administrators and faculty to be considerate of our experiences, we must be considerate of them. Especially considering that older faculty members are more likely to be immunocompromised, we again must prioritize health and well-being over all else.

What’s your advice for international students on this situation?

Our international peers are incredibly valuable members of the Harvard community. This unjust ICE order wrongly questions this value. As student body leaders, we are doing everything we can to advocate on your behalf.

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