Opinion

Student orientation, SOAR, unfair to international students

At right, a College of Engineering student-peer advisor works with an incoming first-year undergraduate to register for her classes using a laptop computer during a Student Orientation, Advising and Registration (SOAR) session at College Library in Helen C. White Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on Aug. 9, 2017. Sponsored by the Center for the First-Year Experience, the two-day SOAR sessions provide new students and their parents and guests an opportunity to meet with staff and advisors, register for classes, stay in a residence hall, take a campus tour and learn about campus resources. (Photo by Jeff Miller / UW-Madison)
At right, a College of Engineering student-peer advisor works with an incoming first-year undergraduate to register for her classes using a laptop computer during a Student Orientation, Advising and Registration (SOAR) session at College Library in Helen C. White Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on Aug. 9, 2017. Sponsored by the Center for the First-Year Experience, the two-day SOAR sessions provide new students and their parents and guests an opportunity to meet with staff and advisors, register for classes, stay in a residence hall, take a campus tour and learn about campus resources. (Photo by Jeff Miller / UW-Madison) Image By: Jeff Miller

Each year, thousands of international students ​start their college journeys by flying to Madison, Wisconsin​. With them, they carry the hopes and dreams of not just themselves, but also their families back home. However, the unfortunate reality is that right from the start of their college careers at UW-Madison, these international students are disadvantaged.

When I joined the University of Wisconsin-Madison last semester, my expectations, similar to those of other international students, were high. This is a highly ranked school and I assumed that my expectations would be matched to the very least. However, I was disappointed right from the start: at the Student Orientation Advising & Registration (SOAR) session. 

Most of the ethnic studies classes I really wanted to take had been filled up by those who had the opportunity to enroll earlier. To make matters worse, I got a schedule that was evening-heavy, which meant that I could not take part in many of the extracurricular activities I had intended to, when I became a Badger. 

There are restrictions for when international students with F-1 and J-1 visas can travel to the United States — typically less than a month before classes begin. This leaves them no option but to book and attend the later Student Orientation Advising & Registration (SOAR) sessions.

What this means is that a majority of the classes that they may have intended to enroll in would be filled up by domestic students who had the privilege of attending early SOAR sessions. The effect this has on the academic paths of these ambitious international students tends to be larger than what the Center for the First Year Experience (CFYE) at UW-Madison and the Office of the Registrar might imagine.

In terms of how this affects student academics, it predominantly falls between scheduling conflicts and a lacking motivation to study.

Students are not motivated to take part in — or even attend — classes that they have no interest in. Given that many international students are forced to choose whichever classes are available during their SOAR sessions, they find themselves taking courses they have never heard of or have never had any interest in. Just to satisfy course requirements during SOAR, international students are left to choose courses from the “scraps” discarded by domestic students.

Taking such classes leads to a lower starting GPA, which might affect the chances of these students getting admitted to most of the colleges and schools that they might apply to on campus, possibly even leaving a mark on their career aspirations.

Few class options and seats mean that international students will not have a wide array of class schedules to pick from. Many international students thus have to sacrifice some of the other activities they intend to take part in on campus. From the student who won't be able to debate on Friday evenings because of the class he has to take at 5:00pm, to the student who will not be able to serve as a Badger Volunteer because her schedule will not allow her to; it is simply not fair. 

Having spoken to Mr. Chris Verhaeghe from the CFYE, it was clear that not much is being done to solve this issue. Mr. Verhaeghe did mention that CFYE ensures every incoming student leaves SOAR with a full schedule that satisfies their course requirements. However, the focus should be on ensuring that international students are taking courses that they actually want, specifically ones in which they actually feel motivated to take part in and that allow them to explore other interests on campus.

Currently, based on the conversation I had with the First Year Interest Groups (FIG) Director, Mr. Nathan Phelps, there are plans to create a committee that would discuss how to make classes and schedules equally accessible. Nevertheless, this is still in the planning phase and, at the moment, the class of 2024 will still find the same unfair class allocation system existing at SOAR.

The SOAR program says that it “aims at ensuring first year students gain exposure to an array of academic and social opportunities at UW–Madison and also begin to integrate into university life and UW–Madison culture.” It is thus important that equity and inclusion be at the center of this mission so that all incoming students get to have the full first-year academic and cultural experience. It is time that the Center for the First Year Experience together with the Office of the Registrar style up and ensure that every Badger has the same access to academic resources.

I, together with my colleagues at the Associated Students of Madison, will continue fighting and campaigning to make sure that this becomes reality.

Lennox is a freshman and is on the Pre-Business track . He interned with the Associated Students of Madison(ASM). Do you think that SOAR is unfair to international students? What do you think the university should do to be more inclusive for these students? Send all comments to opinion@dailycardinal.com

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