OPINION: International students deserve equal opportunities to become student leaders

(John Chapple | Collegian Media Group)

A student leader is anyone who spreads knowledge by inspiring and motivating other students in a student community. A student leader strives to change the world, one step at a time, starting with their community.

To become a student leader is a massive privilege that very few students get to experience. At Kansas State, it is relatively more accessible for students involved with Greek life to become a student leader. However, it sometimes is just a dream too big for international students.

I am a part of the Student Governing Association as the International Affairs Director. One thing I have noticed is the lack of diversity in SGA, especially when it comes to international students. Ten or fewer international students receive the opportunity to be a part of SGA every year. I find these statistics to be incredibly disturbing. In my experience, numerous international student leaders on campus are unable to spread their wings of leadership.

Even within SGA, there exists glass ceilings that prevent international students from accomplishing their leadership potential. To give a personal example, I ran for the speaker of the student senate last semester because I felt that I was fit for the position. Through my on-campus involvement, I was proficient in performing every duty as the speaker. However, it was only after running for this position that I experienced the complicated politics in SGA and other on-campus organizations.

When I ran for this position, I had to make flyers for the election. My brochure was a simple half-page flyer with my photo, contact information and three words that summed up my campaign. I made this simple flyer because that was all I could afford. I had to make decisions about how much to spend on my flyer so I have money for groceries. One of my opponents had a beautiful three page pamphlet with detailed information about their campaign. My other opponent also had colorful flyers made on thick paper, which is pretty expensive. I did not possess this luxury.

I faced some relational barriers as well. Student leaders could not relate to my story as an international student and diversity, inclusion and representation of internationals in SGA mattered so much to me.

I also had a lack of assistance from other student leaders. When I chose to run for speaker, I received limited to no assistance from individuals connected to SGA. My opponents got help from many people and each had at least five colleagues debating for their candidacy. I had no one debating for me. People I knew told me I should choose another position and focus my energy on that.

This situation is the same for other international students who are leaders in different organizations.

Numerous factors contribute to such situations.

A majority of international students do not know opportunities exist for them to experience leadership. Multiple organizations fail to reach international students and recruit them. These organizations have skewed demographics with international students in the smallest numbers or non-existent.

Major philanthropic organizations do not have any international students as members or on their committees. International students can bring different perspectives that can significantly benefit an organization. International students can provide unique challenges to the status quo and get other organization members interested in issues concerning diversity and inclusion.

International students’ representation in Greek life is also rare, if not nonexistent. Being part of Greek life is one of the best ways to get involved on campus. However, very few international students receive the prerogative to be a part of it.

Personally, I have never seen any fraternity or sorority outreach and recruit international students. This lack of awareness creates a barrier for international students that prevents them from getting involved. It results in international students feeling left out on campus.

International students are also under massive academic pressure, as we pay three to four times higher tuition fees. We do not receive FAFSA or other assistance. Hence, the thought of spending time in leadership development rarely crosses these students’ minds. Many immerse themselves in research work, hoping to receive affordable education via research fundings and grants.

I empathize with students who feel this way. In my two-and-a-half years at K-State, I have been involved in numerous organizations and activities. I have held upper-level executive positions in all of the organizations that I was a part of. However, I did not receive any extrinsic benefits from my involvement.

I have been a committee chair and a director in SGA, two-time vice president, one-time treasurer of a student organization, former vice president and current president of the Union Governing Board and spoke publicly at over half a dozen events. Yet, last semester, I received a $500 scholarship, and I paid $17,308 in tuition fees.

My involvement impacted the K-State and Manhattan community. Still, I did not receive any significant compensation for giving my time for the betterment of this campus and community and putting all efforts into becoming an impactful student leader. International students see these factors and choose not to get involved in student leadership.

American politicians across the political spectrum believe international students in America are great leaders and scholars in their respective fields. It is of great importance that campuses across the nation understand the significance of empowering international students.

I, an international student, received the great privilege of being a student leader in public life at K-State. However, my time at K-State will soon end. What keeps me awake at night is wondering what the conditions would be for future international student leaders at K-State. Will the conditions change or will they remain the same?

I was once asked, where do you see K-State in the next 20 years? I answered, “I see a K-State where the student body president is an international student,” without hesitating. The day international students are given a chance to explore their leadership capacity fully, that will be the day when K-State truly creates global leaders of the future.

I did have personal political ambition once. I believed I could bring real change and have an even stronger positive impact on our campus. I wanted to serve the student body as effectively as I could, while also showing the leadership capacity an international student possesses. My ambition rose from my desire to serve, to be a leader and to be in public life.

However, that ambition has waned due to the barriers to success that I have faced. It is difficult for me to comprehend the idea of becoming the student body president. Nevertheless, what matters to me now is the hope that one day, another international student at K-State, who is also passionate about being a leader, gets to follow their heart and achieve their desired accolades.

I hope one day, K-State administration understands the importance of appropriately compensating and recognizing international student leaders. I wish to see a day when the student body knows the leadership capacity of international students — a day when all student organizations become more inclusive towards international students.

Vedant Deepak Kulkarni is a junior in management information systems and mass communications. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.