The University of Saskatchewan’s main campus is situated on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis.

International students lack trust in authorities

By in Opinions


University administration recently suspended a student after he stole chemicals from campus.
University administration recently suspended a student after he stole chemicals from campus.

The University of Saskatchewan needs to extend more understanding to their international students, especially when taking into account language barriers and cultural differences.

With bewilderment, I saw how international student Mohamadmahdi Kowsari was shamed and stigmatized after talking to a trusted staff member at the U of S. Following this conversation, the U of S alleged that Kowsari “threatened the use of dangerous chemicals,” later suspending his education and banning him from campus.

On Oct. 25, after being deemed a danger to himself or others, the Saskatoon Police were swiftly called in and arrested Kowsari for theft under $5,000.

As an international student myself, this brings me to question and to actually believe what some people say their fears are with respect to talking to a counsellor or even their doctor when they face issues — be they physical, mental or emotional.

Why is it that so many international students, even before this issue came to light, deliberately refuse to seek the help of health professionals? Why do they feel so strongly that someone who is in a position to help them, or direct them to where they can get help, may look down, stigmatize or label them?

This is not to say that proper action to prevent harm to self or others should not have been taken in the case of Kowsari, but instead to ask — why is it that this man was immediately thrust so completely into the media attention? Why does the harm he may have posed to himself or others need to be broadcast after he sought help for himself?

I wonder how many international students would talk to a counsellor about issues they might be facing. How would they have the confidence to speak up or seek help when it seems to be apparent that their fears that their issues will be spread to their professors, supervisors and — as in this case —  the media, will come true?

Where is the line between public safety, personal safety and a person’s private quest for help?

I know of a fellow international student that contracted a sexually transmitted infection here in Canada. He felt unsure of going to a doctor because of the fear that his case might get blown out of proportion. Something he felt could be treated with few antibiotics in his home country might become big news here simply because someone might overreact or forget about trust and confidentiality.

Instead of being able to trust Canadian doctors, he decided to travel back to his home country. He told his parents that he was missing home terribly; they pooled money together to get him a ticket to travel home for a month where he got himself treated, then came back to the U of S to continue his studies. Clearly, international students feel as though they cannot trust the authorities in Canada.

Similarly, some international graduate students relay accounts of supervisors who take over their students’ work as their own, forcing the student to start a new project. These students don’t come forward for fear that the supervisor will hear about it and make the their lives even more difficult or, even worse, send them home without the degree they’ve been working towards.

Sadly, this problem extends beyond seeking the help of health professionals. Another international student recalls being unreasonably failed by her professor. As a result, she repeated the course from the same professor, who was the only one who taught the course at that time, because it was the only one she still needed to graduate. She also had to take the required amount of courses during that term in order to maintain her status as an international student — even though she only needed that one class.

When this professor overheard her discussing what she had planned for her summer, he interjected and implied that she may not be able to graduate. She said nothing and didn’t want to pursue any academic action for fear the situation would escalate. She just wanted to quietly finish what she had to and leave. She passed the class the second time and graduated. She has never looked back at the U of S.

Even international student groups are not immune to this problem. One group had a conflict over an amount owed from several months ago with a local organization. Instead of any form of suggested mediation, or even trying to reach the international student group themselves, university staff suggested that the organization who needed to be paid should contact the police. Why was this the first step in a resolution?

Since Kowsari had talked to a trusted professional, it seems as though he tried to turn himself in and seek help. From news reports, this idea is glossed over in favour of the glory of the successful hunt for illegally-obtained substances. Where is Kowsari in his quest for help? Has he been arrested and left alone to ponder the wisdom of turning himself in? Is he getting the help he went for when he sought assistance in the first place?

I think it’s time we look at why so many international students at all levels are not seeking the help they need. What are the costs of not being able to have confidence in authorities as international students?

Following the media outbreak with Kowsari do you think the next person in his position will want to come forward and seek help? Media headlines are certainly not worth the cost.

It’s time to examine the trust in our confidential systems and provide better support and methods of understanding for international students who struggle enough as it is.

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