Citizen, Immigrant, Visitor

The main goal of The Futures Initiative is to work toward greater equity and inclusion in the academy, which, under the current political climate, necessarily leads us to take on the task of acknowledging the precarity of international students nationwide. If we aim to redesign graduate education to support students, scholarship, and the public good, we need to take into consideration that a good percentage of graduate students across the nation are in a situation of in-betweenness that does not allow them to take part in the new higher education we aim to achieve, as the system forces them to believe they are not fully part of it.

The other key goal of The Futures Initiative is to support individual career pathways and thus bridge the gap, felt by many outside —but also inside academia— between “Higher education” and “the World”. In May 2020, the Futures Initiative, the PublicsLab, and the Center for the Humanities we are bringing together graduate students, faculty, administrators, and those with a graduate degree who work outside academia in a national conference: “Graduate Education at Work in the World”. Building on research by Katina Rogers —Putting the Humanities PhD to Work: Thriving in and Beyond the Classroom, forthcoming—, and organized by FI Fellow Cihan Tekay, we invite participants to join us in building a university that is truly worth fighting for by thinking more expansively about what constitutes scholarly success.

The structural problems of our current higher education system make F1 students even more vulnerable, which has implications at every level of the university, especially in the humanities, and in society at large. At The Graduate Center, CUNY non-resident aliens on an F1 visa status add up to around 30% of total students, which means that many of those who teach at different CUNY campuses are also “visitors” in a system —academia— where implication and continuity are the minimum requirement for success.

Recently, when the English Department at Columbia University did not place any single of its PhDs on the Tenure Track, a silent reality seemed to suddenly materialize for many: there are more PhDs than academia can absorb, and yet, graduate school still focuses majoritarily in placing students in teaching positions. Thus, the infamous “Crisis of the Humanities” finally caught up with the times.

The harsh reality is that, after many years of study, competition, stress and precarity, graduates come to realize that those jobs they have been prepared to perform do not exist anymore. This creates a sense of despair that can only discourage, even more, prospect graduate students in the humanities. It is high time universities did something to end this cycle of precarity.

As for international students, they are caught up in a much more vicious cycle. Under U.S. immigration laws, an F1 visa holder is defined as a non-immigrant student, a “visitor”. Some of the problems that international students face are well known, and they often make the news: detention of students at the border; heightened scrutiny for work visas after graduation; plans to impose a maximum number of years a student can stay on their visa; or a push to end a program that allows international students to stay and work in the U.S. after completing their academic program.

With few Tenure-Track jobs that would allow international students move from “visitor” to “immigrant” and thus, somehow, secure their legal status, how can international students be part of the structural changes of an educational system that it is never their own? How can the university rethink the role of these graduate students, so they do not merely serve as “cheap labor”? And how can we make sure that international students do not feel they are in-between a country they left long ago, and the country where they study, work and pay taxes, but where they feel as mere “visitors”?

Graduate students from all over the world receive fellowships to come to the U.S. and get their PhD. In times when securing a position in academia was a possibility, most international students would reciprocate by joining the nation’s body of educators. Now that academia prepares them for some jobs that do not exist anymore, why does the university support the education of those who are ‘visiting’ the country?


The Futures Initiative
The Graduate Center, CUNY
365 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10016-4309